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What the hell is going on with The Phantom of the Opera?

The West End’s second longest running show, is to end after more than 30 years.

Cameron Mackintosh & Andrew Lloyd Webber

It reached crescendo, yesterday, when producer Cameron Mackintosh confirmed in an article for the Evening Standard that the London production has been “permanently shut down” as a result of the coronavirus.

The decision to end the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical was said to have been reached after the surprise £1.5bn rescue package for the arts “failed to materialise”.

A knee-jerk move that told us one of two things.

Either Mackintosh thinks the public are so dangerously stupid they wouldn’t notice a 1,500lb Chandelier prop on the pavement, or there’s nothing the superproducer won’t do for publicity.

This is, after all, Cameron Mackintosh: a relentless, formula-driven, and shrewd producer where spontaneity is rarely on the menu.

It is probably worth mentioning that Mackintosh (whose shows include Les Misérables and Hamilton) came in at 119th place on the Sunday Times Rich List, with an estimated wealth of £1.24bn.

Anyway, Lloyd Webber recently tweeted that he would try to preserve the “brilliant original” version of the long-running musical, when it does return.

Although, I’m not 100 per cent sure that the the old show is ever coming back. 

“On top of this,” Mackintosh continued, “Andrew and I have had to sadly permanently shut down our London and UK touring productions of The Phantom of the Opera, but are determined to bring it back to London in the future.”

What still slightly surprised me, however, was how casually and confusingly this was announced, and that all touring productions of Phantom will also cease to operate.

The musical’s world tour, recently in Seoul,  survived the pandemic, weathered a cast outbreak to become perhaps the only large-scale show running, and playing eight shows a week.

Her Majesty’s Theatre

Has Cam Mack contrived a way of automating the show, slicing production costs, and cutting royalties by installing the UK touring production in 2021?

Interestingly, Delfont Mackintosh HQ were not aware that the producer had written the Standard article until they saw the front page tweeted by George Osborne. 

Apart from the bungled announcement, though, I don’t bear Mackintosh too much resentment, The musical has had an outstandingly good 33 year run globally.

Maybe a new musical could take up residence once the overdue refurbishment is complete.

That said, what long-term business lesson will actually be learned from this? There are no signs that the producer is intending to shut down Les Miserables, for example.

But Mackintosh had ‘updated’ that original production and plonked the inferior 2010 tour staging in the recently refurbished Sondheim Theatre, minus the revolve.

Furthermore, Mackintosh went on to raise concerns about the validity of employing social distancing in theatres. 

“My loyal production and theatre management staff have been cut by 60 per cent reduced to a dedicated team who will look after these priceless historic buildings so they are ready to ramp up back into production the moment the Government accepts that social distancing, which I have been totally opposed to from the outset, is no longer a requirement.”

Twenty four house of chin stroking later and echoing what Mackintosh said in his article Lloyd Webber tweeted: “As far as I’m concerned, Phantom will re-open as soon as is possible.

Repeat ’til fade.