“Phantom of the Opera,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s colossal musical, became the longest-running Broadway show ever in 2006 when it passed “Cats.” For the last seven years, “Phantom” has set a new endurance record with every performance.
More than 15 million people have sat beneath the 1-ton, 6,000-bead chandelier that has crashed to the Majestic Theater stage more than 10,000 times. “Phantom” has grossed more than $5.6 billion worldwide, making it one of the most successful entertainment enterprises of all time.
“It might run forever,” said Ron Bohmer, who has played both the disfigured, tortured Phantom and his rival, Raoul.
Bohmer and his wife, Sandra Joseph – who holds the record for the most appearances as Christine, the Phantom’s obsession – were entranced by the show again in January as honored guests at the 25th-anniversary celebration in New York City.
They hope to convey some of the grandeur of the show when they present “An Evening With The Phantom and Christine,” a concert at the Garner Performing Arts Center May 4 as part of the Broadway Voices series. They will sing songs from “Phantom” and from other shows in which they have acted.
They each do concert work around the country, but they don’t get to work together as much as they would like, so the Garner show is a labor of love, Bohmer said.
“We knew we wanted to do concerts together and thought about what the theme should be,” Bohmer said. “In her interviews, people always are asking, ‘So you married the ‘Phantom?’ ”
Their concert has music from Webber’s masterwork, of course, but they also will introduce other ways the “Phantom” has been presented and other Broadway couples.
Bohmer has a resume that includes starring roles in more than a dozen Broadway shows, including “Les Miserables,” “Scarlett Pimpernel,” “Into the Heights,” “The Woman in White” and “Sunset Boulevard. Joseph is the longest tenured Christine, having performed the role 1,260 times over 10 years.
After all that time, she said the reason for the show’s massive appeal remains as elusive as the Phantom himself.
“No one can really say why ‘Phantom’ has become such a record-breaking cultural phenomenon,” she said. “But I like to think that one of the factors … is that there’s something universally resonant about the character of the Phantom.
“We all know what it feels like to hold the belief that ‘if you really saw all of who I am, you would run in the other direction.’ The mask is not a subtle metaphor for how we try to cover up the parts of ourselves we find repulsive or unlovable. When Christine finally shows him compassion and acceptance, the audience is moved to tears. Now if only we would show that same kind of love and acceptance to ourselves.”
Bohmer notes the score is sensational, the special effects enchanting, and the story has been loved since Gaston Leroux wrote the book in serialized form in 1909-1910.
“But at its heart,” he said, “ ‘Phantom’ is a great romance. I think almost everyone can relate to the story.”
The Phantom, deformed and unloved since birth, loves a beautiful opera singer, Christine, and will do anything to win her love. When Raoul appears and captures her affection, the Phantom resorts to murder and abduction.
“I think almost everyone has had a time in their life when they felt ugly, or wanted to be different than they are,” Bohmer said. “They want to change, to be different, to be accepted. To me, understanding the Phantom goes back to his love for Christine. Everything revolves around that.”
The show touches audiences, Joseph said..
“My goal every time I played Christine … is to invite the audience to feel their own hearts,” she said. “My job as an actor and now as a speaker is … to be honest and real enough to make an emotional connection with the audience.”
Bohmer and Joseph have a real stage romance. They met for the first time on the Kennedy Center stage in Washington, D.C., when he reported for “Phantom” rehearsals opposite Joseph. She had a cold and couldn’t speak or sing at rehearsal, but Bohmer was smitten.
“Mine was love at first sight,” he said. “She took a little longer. But as soon as I met her, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.”