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The Phantom of the Opera's Longest Employees Say Goodbye to the Show of a Lifetime

HENRIETTA MCFARLANE, HOST: Broadway’s longest running show The Phantom of the Opera is coming to a close. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical will play its last performance at the Majestic Theater April 16th. Some people have worked on the show for decades. As the final week approaches, Elizabeth Erb reports on what’s next for a few of Phantom’s most seasoned players.

ELIZABETH ERB, BYLINE: For the past 19 years, Andrew Nelson has had the same commute to work. He takes the train to the theater district. Heads to 45th street. And walks down a nondescript alley that leads to the Majestic Theater’s stage door. From there he goes backstage and prepares for the show.

[The Phantom of the Opera swells]

ERB: 60 year old Nelson is the dresser for the actor who plays the title role. He’s responsible for making sure the Phantom’s cape is ready each night. But because he’s been with the show so long, he’s finding that applying for new jobs is tricky.

ANDREW NELSON: When I was putting my resume together last I was like how do I do this? It’s been 19 years since I’ve had to put a resume together. My niece, thank god, I sent her my resume and was like I have no idea what I’m doing. And she was like, I’ll help ya. Thank god cause I had no idea.

ERB: But his challenges are more than just resumes. A lot has changed since he started working on Phantom, including colleagues in the industry.

NELSON: All of the contacts that I had are no longer around. For me it’s like starting fresh again. Which is a challenge but it’s an exciting challenge because you get to meet all new people and start fresh.

ERB: For other people in the show, the ending is daunting. Like Actor Greg Mills who’s worked on Phantom for 16 and a half years.

GREG MILLS: It’s scary, cause you’re like what’s next. What job are you know gonna have to pay bills and stuff like that.

ERB: He’s taking matters into his own hands by exploring a different passion of his: photography. He’s documenting backstage life in the final weeks of the show. One of his photos was recently published by Forbes.

MILLS: That’s been fun. As a you know, potential, maybe go to or in between before another show or really focus on trying to make that my thing.

ERB: Phantom’s closing comes at a time when things are still uncertain for Broadway. Broadway general manager Nina Essman says the theater industry hasn’t fully recovered since it reopened after the pandemic shut down.

NINA ESSMAN: What’s happening now is a combination of a few things. One is Covid. And everybody coming back from changing their lifestyle.

ERB: By that she means, fewer patrons returning to Broadway.

ESSMAN: International tourists aren’t back. And the local audience, it’s interesting. The folks who would see five shows a year are now seeing three; the folks who saw one show are just waiting it out. So there’s definitely diminishing returns.

ERB: But for long-time Phantom employee’s like Nelson, the closing is more than just numbers.

ERB: What will you miss the most?

NELSON: Mostly the people. Everyone’s crying “oh they’re closing Phantom, how can they do this.” It’s like it happens in theater. We knew it was going to eventually happen. I’m sad about the people. The show is going to be reimagined, I don’t care about the show. The people are what matters, and that’s the life of a show.

[Music of the Night]

ERB: The Phantom of the Opera will play its final Broadway performance April 16th after 35 years. The Shubert Organization which owns the Majestic has already begun much-needed renovations on the theater. Getting it ready for whatever show will come in next. Elizabeth Erb, Columbia Radio News.


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