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Pandemic is not killing off ‘Phantom of the Opera’

The South African logo The South African 2020-08-08 Mike Simpson
a man that is lit up at night © Provided by The South African

Is COVID-19 killing off the most famous of all phantoms? Despite widespread concern that this may be the case, it seems even a pandemic cannot keep a good phantom down.

London’s legendary West End theatre district has been hosting the Phantom of the Opera musical spectacular for a remarkable 34 consecutive years at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

Theatre-lovers worried about permanent closure

But after the venue closed in March, along with almost all other productions in the UK due to the pandemic, it seemed that the hiatus would not be merely temporary for the musical written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe.

At the end of July, the show’s producer Cameron Mackintosh wrote in a newspaper column that “Andrew and I have had to sadly permanently shut down our London and UK touring productions of The Phantom of the Opera.”  

Theatre lovers around the world and the industry as a whole immediately erupted with dismay.

London Blitz could not stop West End shows

The West End, after all, survived the London Blitz of World War Two and, although air raids had to be announced from the stage or signalled by an illuminated box in front of the footlights, performances usually continued and patrons could decide to stay or head for the air-raid shelters. Most stayed.

Could it be, then, that the virus would do what falling bombs could not and bring down the final curtain on one of the West End’s most enduring shows?

Fortunately, it seems that it was all a poor choice of words and the Phantom will be back, undaunted and unbowed.

Even Lloyd-Webber took to Twitter to reassure fans that “As far as I’m concerned Phantom will reopen as soon as is possible”. Which attracted 7 500 ‘likes’ from relieved followers.

Major repair work before Phantom can return

A spokesperson for the production then clarified that the misunderstanding arose over comments around the repair and maintenance work that need to be done to the theatre and the sets, given that 34 continuous years of performances leaves little time for anything other than Band-Aid repairs.

When it reopens after that work and the easing of social-distancing restrictions for theatre productions, it will be the original Phantom of the Opera and not a watered-down version, which was another concern among enthusiasts.

“We will bring it back, we just can’t tell you when at this point in time,” a spokesperson said.

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