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    The Phantom of the Opera. Already the longest running show in Broadway history; and now, 25 years on Broadway. 1,0399 performances. And in one theatre. 

    Saturday's black tie performance for an invited audience of great fans, celebrities, and numerous alumni of the show and festive gala was worthy of the opening night of a landmark musical. One that's become a worldwide blockbuster for composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricists Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe.

    The performance was as polished as can be, with Sierra Boggess appearing as one of the most accomplished and stunning Christine's in the show's history. Hugh Panaro, a long-time veteran in and out of the role, was a Phantom with panache and a heart full of rage - and love.

    Phantom of the Opera champagne flowed during the interval. And dozens of reunion shots were snapped.

    There were several 25 veterans still in the show, behind-the-scenes, and in the pit - all living most comfortable lives - with mucho bucks saved for those rainy days and spent on college tuitions.

    The show looked as stunning as it did on its opening night thanks to the just-delivered bounty of sparkling new costumes for the entire company.

    After the bows [even the famous chandelier took one!], director Hal Prince and co-producer [with Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Company] Cameron Mackintosh appeared and jovially told stories of the show's storied past and just as Monsieurs Andre and Firmin did earlier onstage read notes.

    There were sorry-we-can't-be-with-you-tonight-on-this-landmark-occasion message from Michael Crawford at home in New Zealand; and associate director and stager of the musical numbers Gillian Lynne, busy on the West End at she was about to open Betty Buckley in Jerry Herman's Dear World. A wonderful tribute was paid to the last production designer and costumer Maria Bjornson.

    There was a video of Lloyd Webber from his London home where he expressed regrets at not being about to attend because of impending back surgery. In the first interview he had done with his former wife and POTO's original Christine since the opening, he told Sarah Brighton that "I've been in a lot of operating theatres later, but would much rather be at the theater on Broadway."

    Then came the introduction of Brightman, who certainly looked many years younger and different [dare we venture to say how?] in a unique pair of glittering high-tone heels that probably cost as much as the initial budget of the show. Sadly, she wore the most ill-fitting black silk dress that gave her no form whatsoever. She told of what an exhilarating experience being in the musical had been and her admiration in seeing subsequent performances and how later Christine brought their own personality to the role.

    Moments earlier Macintosh told the hushed audience of how Brightman, when still Lady Lloyd Webber, was the muse of the show - urging Lloyd Webber to write an original musical from the classic novel by Baston Leroux; and, in a startling bit of news, how it was she who suggested Crawford for the role of Phantom. [She had just returned from a London voice lesson where Crawford was finishing his and where she became mesmerized by his voice.]

    Prince brought out the backstage crew, saluted the orchestra and conductor David Caddick [the long-time music supervisor and who had conducted the West End and Broadway openings], even the front of house staff.

    Previous Phantoms from various international productions were introduced. Join by Panaro and Boggess, they reprised songs from the production. Though they weren't personally introduced, Prince pointed out the massive assembly of former ensemble players and principals seated left and right of the center orchestra. All joined in singing "The Music of the Night."  Tears flowed like the falls at Niagara.

    The after party that took up the entire first floor and part of the second at New York's 101-year-old Carrère and Hastings palace of culture, the magnificent Public Library at Fifth Avenue.

    Dear Phantom: Here's to another 25 years!

    Ellis Nassour is an international media journalist, and author of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which he has adapted into a musical for the stage. Visit www.patsyclinehta.com.

    He can be reached at [email protected]

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