I found the 25th anniversary production of the Phantom of the Opera on Amazon last year and I watched it for the first time since I was 16. Now that I am a lot more emotionally stable than I was as a teenager, I was able to think about the last scene of the musical. To me, it encapsulates one of the biggest, if not the biggest, problem with the musical.
Who is the protagonist?
To me, the protagonist of The Phantom of the Opera, as told in the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, is Christine. In a way, this makes sense, since he did write the musical with his ex-wife, Sarah Brightman, in mind for the part of Christine. We spend most of the time with Christine, following her and the choices (such as they are) throughout the show.
And yet, at the end, Christine and Raul literally row off backstage, leaving us with the Phantom. We don’t get to hear what Christine thinks about her experience. We stay with the Phantom and experience his plight. Yes, it’s terribly sad (I cried the first time I listened to it) and yet, why end the show in this way? At that moment, the antagonist gets the cathartic moment.
We never get to hear how Christine feels about all of this. Harold Prince, the director, felt that the story of Phantom of the Opera was the story of Christine’s coming of age, but as soon as the show ends, she leaves and we don’t hear from her again, except to sing about how she is in love with Raul. We do not get to see how Christine has truly come of age, has grown into an adult.
To me, this is the epitome of the Phantom of the Opera’s style over substance approach. Yes, it is incredibly emotional, and I was definitely one of the “sad teenage girls” (to quote Lindsay Ellis) that was all about how sad it was for the Phantom at the end. But now I listen to it, and I just think about how confused the show is at the end. By the end, the Phantom of the Opera does not know who the protagonist is. It has lost the plot.