Canadian cast members say goodbye as Phantom of the Opera ends 35-year run on Broadway


Standing just outside New York City’s Majestic Theatre, Laird Mackintosh recalled joining the Broadway ensemble of The Phantom of the Opera 10 years ago. 

On Sunday, the Canadian actor will take in the iconic musical’s waxy candelabras, golden chandelier and hazy opulence from the audience, as the show that began his musical theatre career in Toronto 30 years ago takes its final bow on Broadway.

“A lot of the high points in my career have been as a result of being in this show,” Mackintosh said.

The longest-running musical in Broadway history, The Phantom of the Opera will close on Sunday after 35 years, nearly 14,000 performances, and a gross of over a billion dollars. Its Canadian cast members say that something of its likeness won’t be seen again on the Great White Way.

Mackintosh, a Calgary performer who was a dancer in the National Ballet of Canada before he made the jump to musical theatre, joined the Toronto production of Phantom in 1993, when shows in the city were “going gangbusters,” he said.

He played several roles in Toronto and in the show’s U.S. tour, including the lead romantic role, Raoul, as well as the titular character. After joining the show’s New York company in 2013, Mackintosh played the Phantom again — but he was cast primarily for the role of Monsieur André, the owner of the opera.

Laird Mackintosh stands in front of Majestic Theatre in New York City, where the Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera has been housed since 1988. (Kris Reyes/CBC)

“Years later when I came to Broadway, because the show had run that long, I just aged up into another role,” said Mackintosh. “That’s something that doesn’t usually happen in the run of a show, where actors are playing multiple roles in different ages.”

It’s a testament to Phantom‘s staying power among Broadway regulars and international audiences. With its gothic Victorian romance, lush candlelit set and iconic love songs like The Music of the Night, “the spectacle of the show is still one of the most stunning things that you would see in a production on Broadway,” said Mackintosh.

But he believes the story, about a brutally disfigured man who haunts a 19th-century opera house before falling in love with a young soprano named Christine, is the draw that has sustained the show’s success for more than three decades.

“At the core of this production, I think, is a central character that strikes a chord with people,” said Mackintosh. “Somebody who is on the outside, ugly, deformed, but inwardly has all the richness of a very deep soul, talent — something to offer the world.”

‘This will never be seen again’

The Phantom of the Opera boasts a cast, crew and full orchestra of 130 people and expansive set pieces that include a one-ton replica of the Paris Opera House chandelier. Its set is manually operated by stage hands, a rarity on Broadway as newer shows rely on automation to move their sets around, according to Mackintosh.

“I think it is truly the end of an era. I mean, people who I’ve talked to who know, who’ve worked on this production from the beginning, agree that we will not see this again on Broadway,” he added.

An actor wears a three-piece suit and a monocle while performing in a Broadway show.
Laird Mackintosh plays Monsieur André in the Broadway production of Phantom. (Matthew Murphy)

Audiences who come from around the world to see a Broadway show can expect a range of flavours: big, small, experimental, conventional, traditional Broadway shows and avant-garde shows, said Mackintosh.

“But I think Phantom does represent something that when it’s gone, it will not exist anymore on Broadway.”

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and producer Cameron Mackintosh conceived the musical after attending a production of another show called Phantom of the Opera, based on the seminal 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux. Webber decided to make his own musical adaptation of the book. 

The show first opened in London’s West End in 1986. When it came to Broadway in 1988, it swept the Tony Awards, taking home best musical and soon turned into a pop culture phenomenon — while also being the subject of some mockery and parody.

It later spawned a stage sequel written by Webber called Love Never Dies, and was adapted into a 2004 film starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum.

LISTEN | Toronto theatre critic Glenn Sumi reflects on Phantom‘s legacy:

8:36Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera is almost at the point of no return

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera is ending its record-breaking 35 year run on Broadway. Theatre critic Glenn Sumi reflects on the show’s legacy, and talks about how the show has aged.

Ralph, a passionate Phantom fan who strolled by the theatre during CBC’s interview with Mackintosh, stopped to tell the actor that he’d seen him perform as Phantom in May 2014.

Ralph first saw the show on Broadway in 1989 when he was seven years old. Now a father, he took his six-year-old to see the show when it reopened after COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.

“This show is a very important part of my life,” he said.

Stability, community for cast and crew

He isn’t alone. For many of the performers and crew members involved, The Phantom of the Opera has been a marker of stability and consistency. Some have been with it since it originated on Broadway in the late ’80s. Others — Mackintosh included — have met their partners while working on the production.

“It’s a miracle in some ways,” said Justin Peck, a Vancouver dancer who joined Phantom‘s Broadway ensemble about 11 years ago.

“It’s so difficult to make a life in the arts as it is, and this has been such a blessing that something this steady and constant could be there to provide a sense of security for what is not a secure career.”

An actor smiles while posing for a photo in his dressing room.
Justin Peck, a Vancouver dancer who is part of Phantom’s Broadway ensemble, says the show has provided ‘a sense of security for what is not a secure career.’ (Kris Reyes/CBC)

Because the Broadway production has a large cast and crew that includes actors, opera singers, dancers and members of the full orchestra, a Phantom community and extended family have bloomed out of Majestic Theatre in the three decades since the show first opened. The size of the ensemble makes for a less competitive environment, said Peck.

“There’s no star in this one, in a way,” he said. “The star is the show.

It’s also afforded its performers the time and space to improve their craft. Raquel Suarez Groen, an opera singer from Calgary, has performed in Phantom on Broadway since 2017 as Carlotta Giudicelli, a lead soprano who detests Christine.

A red-haired actress wears a hat and a fur coat while in character in a Broadway show.
Raquel Suarez Groen is seen in costume as Carlotta Giudicelli in The Phantom of the Opera. ‘It has made me such a strong person to be here because doing eight shows a week requires such a different level of discipline and mental strength and physical strength,’ Groen said. (Matthew Murphy)

“As a trained opera singer, I didn’t know that this was a possibility — to be on Broadway. And it has taught me that you can do anything,” said Groen, who used to suffer from stage fright.

Groen performs in eight shows a week on Broadway, a number “unheard of” in the opera world where the norm is two or three performances, she said.

“It has made me such a strong person to be here because doing eight shows a week requires such a different level of discipline and mental strength and physical strength,” Groen said. “That’s a pretty life-changing thing by itself.”

When he arrives to the show on Sunday night, Mackintosh will forgo the stage door — where cast and crew enter the building — and step into the landmark theatre from its front doors. Watching a show that you’ve been in from the crowd is a “surreal” feeling, he said.

“Anytime the actors in the show get to step outside and watch the show, we always comment on how beautiful it looks and how it sounds different,” said Mackintosh.

“I think everybody will be holding their breath and just trying to take it all in, knowing that we’re seeing it one last time. I can’t believe it.”

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