'The Phantom of the Opera' turns 25

Jennifer Hope Wills and John Cudia, playing Christine Jennifer Hope Wills and John Cudia, playing Christine and the title role in "The Phantom of the Opera," respectively, at the Majestic Theatre in New York. Photo Credit: AP, 2006

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When "The Phantom of the Opera" first hit Broadway, Ronald Reagan was president; Lady Gaga probably still in diapers. And Times Square? A dump.

Times change. The extravagant production became the longest running show in Broadway history, surpassing "Cats" back in 2006 -- and it reaches an even greater landmark this Saturday, celebrating its 25th anniversary with a special gala performance.

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, and direction by Harold Prince, the show debuted at the Majestic Theatre on Jan. 26, 1988. Michael Crawford starred as The Phantom, an obsessed, elusive figure who haunts the Paris Opera House and mesmerizes Christine, a young soprano played by Sarah Brightman.

The show was a sensation -- and source of controversy, from casting (Brightman was unknown on Broadway . . . but she did just happen to be married to the composer) to production values (some music tracks are pre-recorded).

But the show survived, and has been hitting high notes, dropping chandeliers and thrilling audiences ever since. For 10,400 performances, come Saturday. Here are other impressive numbers associated with the show (estimates through Jan. 26, 2013, the show's 25th anniversary performance).

757 Miles traveled since 1988 by the 1-ton, 6,000-bead chandelier, which rises from the stage, hangs above the audience and... ahem, spoiler... crashes.

1,260 Performances by Sandra Joseph, Broadway's longest-running Christine.

2,544 Performances as Broadway's longest-running Phantom. "There's nothing quite like the response you get playing that part," says Howard McGillin, who's also performed in the original "Mystery of Edwin Drood" and the 1987 revival of "Anything Goes."

But The Phantom requires a special commitment.

Applying the makeup -- plus bald cap, prosthetics, two wigs and the infamous mask (custom-made for each actor) -- takes 90 minutes. Add in performing, then washing up, and you've got about five hours a show. For McGillin, that makes 12,720 hours... or 530 days.

"Oh... there's... there's something wrong with me if I was able to do that," he says, laughing. "I was a distance swimmer in school, so maybe I have a certain amount of endurance. You put your head down in the water and think, 'Why the heck wasn't I a sprinter?' But you just keep swimming... lap after lap."

87 Age of Sylvia Bailey, "Phantom's" longest-working usher, who has ushered at the Majestic since the show debuted. She still works the show (and turns 88 next month).

54,600 Miles of Playbill pages read by audiences -- laid out, they'd circle the world. More than twice.

9,382 Guinness World Record for the most performances played in the same Broadway show, held by George Lee Andrews, who played various roles (including Monsieur André, one of two managers of the Opera Populaire) from 1988 to 2011.

1 Number of times any Christine has to sing that perilous high E in the show's title song. Yep, only once (not including auditions), because complicated staging requires that portions of the number, in which the Phantom ushers Christine into a subterranean lair, are prerecorded.

All Christines live in fear the recording will break, meaning they'd have to hit the note again, says Rebecca Luker, who played the role from 1989 to 1991, and went on to star in shows such as "Show Boat," "The Music Man" and "Mary Poppins," earning three Tony nominations.

"It was a great way to start my career," says Luker, who made her Broadway debut in the show. "I call it 'Phantom Camp' -- it taught me the importance of persistence, hard work, setting goals. And it was beautiful. I miss that. I miss the grandness of it."

230 Costumes worn in each show, along with 111 wigs (made of human, yak and synthetic hair).

7 Tony Awards won in 1988, including best musical, actor (Michael Crawford) and director (Harold Prince).

887 MILLION bucks, plus change, "Phantom" has grossed on Broadway since its debut. (Worldwide grosses for tours and foreign productions are estimated at more than $5.6 billion.)

17 Years it took for Jennifer Hope Wills to go from watching the show in the back of the house as a little girl -- Dad, who operated his own theater in Maryland and didn't have much money, on several occasions woke the Wills family up before dawn and drove them to Manhattan to be first in line for standing-room tickets -- to being in the show.

"When I got the job, I called my dad and just cried," recalls Wills, who played Christine from 2006 to 2010 (the third-longest Christine) and now lives in Mineola with her husband, Vincent Schicchi, and their son.

"The first time my parents sat in actual seats for that show was when they first came to see me as Christine," she says. "Many nights singing 'Think of Me,' I'd look out to that back row and remember those magical days where dreams began."

15 MILLION And then some -- the number of audience members at the Majestic. (Globally, some 130 million have seen the show . . . at 65,000 performances, in 28 countries and 13 languages.)

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