After more than 36 years, the curtain will close on The Phantom of the Opera this weekend, as the longest-running show in Broadway history will have its final performance on April 16.
The beloved Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which first debuted on January 26, 1988, at the Majestic Theatre, will conclude after 13,971 total Broadway performances, having attracted more than 20 million viewers and grossing $1.36 billion in New York box-office receipts.
Set in 1919, The Phantom of the Opera tells the story of the beautiful soprano Christine Daaé, who is both seduced and terrorized by a masked phantom living in the shadows of the Paris Opéra House. The musical has long enchanted audiences and turned songs like “Music of the Night,” “All I Ask of You,” and the title song into Broadway classics.
There are 130 cast, crew, and orchestra members involved in each performance of Phantom, and countless actors have appeared in the show over its nearly four-decade run. These are just some of the stories and facts from those Broadway casts.
There have been 52 leading actors.
In total, 16 actors have portrayed the titular Phantom on Broadway, while 36 actors have played Christine Daaé. Michael Crawford originated the role of the Phantom in 1988, winning the Tony Award for his performance. Sarah Brightman first portrayed Christine. The celebrated soprano was married to Andrew Lloyd Webber at the time.
Emilie Kouatchou is the first Black actress to play Christine.
Emilie Kouatchou, who plays the current and final incarnation of Christine Daaé on Broadway, made history as the first Black actor to play the part. She began as an alternate when the show reopened after the COVID-19 pandemic closures in the fall of 2021 and was promoted to the full-time role in January 2022.
“Phantom was the first show I ever saw on Broadway,” Kouatchou said. “I sat in the nosebleed seats, and I didn’t see much, but I remembered the masks at the end and that beautiful image, and it’s kind of beautiful that it came full circle. [Now] I’m actually on stage doing it. It’s crazy.”
Broadway’s first Black Phantom was Norm Lewis.
Seven years before Kouatchou joined the cast, Norm Lewis was the first Black actor to play the Phantom on Broadway, joining the cast in May 2014. Robert Guillaume was the first Black man to play the role in any production, having succeeded Michael Crawford in the part in a Los Angeles production in 1990.
“Andrew Lloyd Webber even said that this is a game changer and that there will probably be more opportunities for other minorities to be a part of this show,” Lewis said in 2015. “And [it will] also let other producers and other creative people see this is an opportunity for other Blacks who have the same talent to be leads in shows, especially if it doesn’t deal with race.”
Michael Crawford prepared for the wrong part before his audition.
When Webber first approached Crawford about The Phantom of the Opera, Crawford assumed he would be auditioning for the part of Raoul, the clean-cut nobleman who also vies for Christine’s affections. Crawford spent a year studying Nelson Eddy’s portrayal as Raoul in the 1943 film adaptation of Phantom before realizing Steve Barton had already been cast in that part for the Broadway production and he was intended to be the lead.
A British rocker almost played the Phantom.
While developing the show, Webber wrote the title song “Phantom of the Opera” as a pop single and created a music video featuring Brightman as Christine and British rock star Steve Harley as the Phantom. Harley was favored to play the lead role on Broadway, but the music video was seen as over-the-top, and the producers feared Harley didn’t have the acting experience to carry a show, so they went with Crawford instead, according to the documentary Behind the Mask.
Howard McGillin is the longest-running Phantom.
Nobody has played the Phantom more often than Howard McGillin. With more than 2,500 performances, he holds the record for playing the title role on Broadway. He was playing the role when Phantom broke the record for the longest-running Broadway production in 2006. “It was exhausting, because he’s such a maniac, but it was a thrill to sing that music every night and to have that audience response,” McGillin said.
This cast member set a world record for most performances.
Although McGillin has played the Phantom the most often, he doesn’t even come close to having appeared in the most Phantom of the Opera productions. That honor belongs to George Lee Andrews, who played the supporting role of opera house co-owner Monsieur André an incredible 9,382 times over 23 years before departing from the role in 2011. He holds the Guinness World Record for most performances in a single Broadway show.
Hamilton led the way for a more diverse Phantom cast.
Ali Ewoldt, who is of Filipino descent, was the first Asian American and first woman of color to play Christine Daaé. By the time she joined the cast in 2016, she was already a veteran stage actor and singer, having made her Broadway debut as Cosette in the Les Misérables revival in 2006. She also performed in national tours of The King and I and West Side Story.
Ewoldt credited Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash-hit musical Hamilton with inspiring other Broadway shows to consider more diverse casts: “I think that that really has proved to people that it doesn’t matter anymore. Storytellers are storytellers, and great actors can tell all sorts of stories, so I think it’s really exciting for the Broadway community to have all these opportunities.”
Two Phantom actors had wardrobe malfunctions.
Although the Phantom wears his iconic white mask for most of the musical, he is dramatically unmasked at several points in the show, revealing a hideously disfigured face. The makeup for these scenes has led to some memorable mistakes in the past: Two different Phantom actors—Crawford and Hugh Panaro—have gotten their lip prosthetics stuck to the actor playing Christine during a kiss scene.
One Phantom and Christine pair tied the knot.
Gary Mauer and Elizabeth Southard, who have played the Phantom and Christine several times together during the show’s United States tours, are married to each other in real life. Mauer had played Raoul on Broadway as well, and Southard was a Christine understudy and played other minor roles alongside him. They have two children together.
Colin McEvoy joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had spent 16 years as a journalist, writer, and communications professional. He is the author of two true crime books: Love Me or Else and Fatal Jealousy. He is also an avid film buff, reader, and lover of great stories.