The international musical hit "The Phantom of the Opera" became the longest running show in Broadway history Monday, after its 7,486th performance.
The Phantom of the Opera has been a sensation since it debuted in London in October of 1986, spawning productions from Budapest, Hungary to Shanghai, China, a 2004 movie and an online store.
The producers say more than 80 million people have seen the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in 22 productions worldwide. Eleven million of them have seen the lavish Broadway production, which arrived in 1988. After 18 years, it has become Broadway's longest-running show, beating the previous record holder, Cats, also by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who was in New York for the record-breaking performance
"I am overwhelmed by it," he said. "I don't really know how to put it into words. I am very humbled by the whole thing. It is certainly not something I ever anticipated I would do and it is not something I know I am going to do again.,"
The extravagant show is based on a French novel about a disfigured composer who wears a mask and lurks in the catacombs of the Paris Opera House, where he falls in love with a young opera singer and uses all of his wiles to promote her career. Lush sets include a huge chandelier that crashes to the ground in one of the show's most memorable scenes.
The Phantom of the Opera was the last collaboration between two contemporary theater legends, Andrew Lloyd Webber and producer Cameron MacIntosh. MacIntosh now has the distinction of having produced the three longest-running shows in Broadway history: Phantom, Cats, and Les Miserables. He was also in town to watch the Phantom make Broadway history, attributing much of the show's success to its romantic atmosphere and music.
"In one's life there is often someone that you think 'if only' and I think that we respond to that in a way that you are taken to this magic place underneath the opera house in this beautiful lush setting with Andrew's soaring and romantic music. You can get yourself lost in it," he said.
The show has earned a staggering $3.2 billion worldwide and is still filling theaters, sometimes with repeat audiences. Andrew Lloyd Webber thinks the timeless aspects of the romance lure audiences.
"I think people relate to the Phantom and his isolation," he said. "I think people perhaps in a way yearn for a kind of high romantic piece like this in times like today. I do not think the appeal of the Phantom seems to have changed at all over the years..
Actor Howard McGillin is back playing the role of the Phantom after a record-setting 1,400 performances from 1999 until 2003.
"I think there is something in this character that we all identify with, his pain, that unrequited love that we have all experienced at some time or other as well as a little bit of not feeling like we fit in in the world. Obviously, he takes that to an extreme. It is very touching and very cathartic to play that every night," he said.
The Phantom may have had troubles finding a place to fit in at the Paris Opera House, but time has proven that he is right at home on Broadway.