Description of the Set of the Broadway Musical "Phantom of the Opera"

by James Rutter
A mammoth chandelier is an important prop at the end of Act One of

A mammoth chandelier is an important prop at the end of Act One of "Phantom of the Opera.".

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Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the music to "The Phantom of the Opera," one of the longest running and most successful musicals in Broadway history. Co-librettists Richard Stilgoe and Webber based this musical on the same-titled novel by Gaston LeRoux; the majority of the story takes place in the Paris Opera House. Maria Bjornson designed the sets, for which she won a Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Best Scenic Design.

Interior, Paris Opera Stage

Much of the action in "Phantom" occurs on the stage of the Paris Opera House. Here, the play's prologue opens during an auction at the now shuttered opera company; as Webber's synthesizer motifs start, the chandelier rises above the stage, the time shifts back fifty years and the musical's first act begins. The sets, backdrops and props reflect the operas staged by the company. Christine performs during these operas, singing "Think of Me," and then later, during another opera, she and the Phantom share the "Point of No Return" duet inside the set of a bordello.

Interior, Paris Opera Dressing Rooms and Balcony

A number of scenes take place directly offstage or backstage of the main set. When Raoul first notices Christine singing, he spies her from his family's balcony; depending on the production, "Phantom" can use an actual balcony built into the theater or have one present on stage. Christine first encounters the Phantom in her dressing room, and Raoul also visits her there. This room consists of, at minimum, a table and a large, floor-to-ceiling length paneled mirror.

Interior, Paris Opera Lobby

Act Two opens on a New Year's Eve party, celebrating the upcoming fortunes of the opera company and the mysterious disappearance of the Phantom. The set consists of a mammoth, central staircase on which the partygoers perform the music and dance number "Masquerade." When the Phantom returns, he rises through a trap door in the middle of the staircase. Huge columns flank the left and right side of the set in this scene, and in the foreground, Raoul and Christine dance amidst jugglers and magicians.

Interior, Paris Opera Underground

The Phantom of the title lives in a labyrinth of rooms and corridors that lie underneath the Paris Opera House. When the Phantom first appears in Act One, he emerges from behind a secret passageway in the mirror of Christine's dressing room. LeRoux based his novel on stories about the actual Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris. This building sits on an underground pool of water that affects its acoustics. In the musical, the Phantom uses a boat to navigate the lake that leads to his underground lair. Here, he composes music ("Music of the Night"), attempts to seduce Christine and eventually imprisons Raoul on a giant gate that forms a barrier across the lake.

Exterior, Paris Opera House and Cemetery

At the end of Act One, Christine and Raoul flee to the rooftop of the Opera House. The set shows the statues that flank the roof, and a scenic backdrop depicts the city of Paris. In Act Two, the action transitions to a cemetery, where Christine goes to visit the tomb of her father. The setting consists of a large crypt, in which deceased members of the Daae family rest. Here, Christine sings her aria "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again." Broadway productions often enshroud the stage in fog for this scene, to further enhance the flames that shoot from the Phantom's staff as he attacks Raoul.

About the Author

Since 2005, James Rutter has worked as a freelance journalist for print and Internet publications, including the “News of Delaware County,” “Main Line Times” and Broad Street Review. As a former chemist, college professor and competitive weightlifter, he writes about science, education and exercise. Rutter earned a B.A. in philosophy and biology from Albright College and studied philosophy and cognitive science at Temple University.

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