'The Phantom of the Opera' celebrates its record-breaking run with masked ball

Tuesday, January 10th 2006, 6:27 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ It was a night of champagne, feasting and feathered masks as hundreds of people who have been part of ``The Phantom of the Opera'' in its nearly 18 years on Broadway gathered for a ``masked ball'' to celebrate the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical's record-breaking run.

Candelabras and fog machines transformed a ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel into a ``Phantom''-themed lair for celebrants after Monday night's show on Broadway _ performance No. 7,486.

Partygoers _ many wearing masks decorated with feathers, beads or sequins _ dined as a live orchestra played from the stage.

At midnight, a flurry of confetti fell from above as a few bars of the ``Phantom'' theme faded into Prince's ``1999.''

The moment echoed the burst of confetti, balloons and streamers that ended Monday night's performance, which edged ``Phantom'' past Lloyd Webber's ``Cats'' as the longest running show in Broadway history.

At the show's end, the musical's original star, Michael Crawford, took the stage for an emotional appearance. Crawford, who opened the New York show on Jan. 26, 1988, said he had never before watched from the audience.

``Tonight I felt the time was right, and I was ... very much looking forward to seeing it,'' he said afterward at the Waldorf-Astoria. ``And I was in no way disappointed. It was just wonderful.''

Monday night's show also featured a curtain call during which a sinuous white feline from ``Cats'' danced with the current Phantom, Howard McGillin, before bidding farewell to the stage.

Many of the other actors who have appeared in the musical took bows as did producer Cameron Mackintosh, director Harold Prince and choreographer Gillian Lynne.

In an interview last week, Lloyd Webber, whose other megahits include ``Jesus Christ Superstar'' and ``Evita,'' was at a loss to explain the phenomenal success of ``Phantom,'' saying with a laugh, ``If I really knew, I would do it again.

``I think there isn't another musical that has been written in the last two decades or so, which has a plot that is so escapist, that allows high romance to happen.''

Mackintosh, the show's savvy producer, agreed.

``The musical is a kind of beauty-and-the-beast story. It appeals to everyone because it is about an impossible love, which I think many of us have had,'' Mackintosh said.

Mackintosh is now in the enviable position of having the three longest-running shows in Broadway history: ``Cats,'' which closed in 2000 after 7,485 performances, in second place, and ``Les Miserables,'' which shut in May 2003 after 6,680 performances, in third.

All have been enormously profitable, but the money made by ``Phantom'' has been staggering. Its worldwide box-office gross _ the show is still running in London, too _ has gone past $3.2 billion. More than 80 million people around the world have seen the musical, which has been presented in two dozen countries. Its popularity has even spawned a movie version.

New York grosses have been nearly $600 million, with the show seen by nearly 11 million theatergoers at the Majestic. New York has had 11 different Phantoms, starting with Crawford, who originated the role in the London production in October 1986.

McGillin, the current Phantom, said Monday was a ``thrilling night.''

``To be just a part of it would have been fantastic,'' he said at the ball. ``To play the Phantom was just a dream.''