Figuring out the ‘Phantom’

The musical of the deformed genius who lives under the Paris Opera House has entranced millions around the world. But the reason why “The Music of the Night” has been so popular for more than 20 years remains unclear.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera — which is playing at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center — is a gothic tale of a young chorus girl, Christine, who becomes the obsession of the mysterious “Opera Ghost.” The musical — based on Gaston Leroux’s novel of the same name — opened in London’s West End in 1986.

Kelly Jeanne Grant, the alternate Christine in the U.S. tour, commented on the musical’s popularity.

“I think it’s because it’s such a great story,” she said. “You have to love the characters.”

Simon Bailey, who plays Raoul (Christine’s suitor and rival of the Phantom), said the music is a major factor in the show’s popularity.

“It’s got some beautiful music and melodies,” he said. “And so many people have heard or know it, especially with the movie that came out a couple years ago.”

Richard Todd Adams, who plays the Phantom, said that if someone were to interview audience members at a performance and ask them why they liked the musical, they would get a thousand different answers.

“There are a lot of people who love the music and there are a lot of people who love the basic story,” he said. “Also, there is this isolated, lonely person, and there are times in our lives when we all have been that in some fashion. It’s universal emotions and feelings we can have at times.”

The show is also known for its set design and special effects, which are more elaborate and detailed than those of many other plays, Grant said. A scene that shows off the play’s technical achievements is the one in which the Phantom takes Christine on a boat ride to his lair during the song “The Phantom of the Opera.”

“The whole set moves,” Grant said. “It’s one of the most thrilling moments in theater history.”

Another such scene is the one in which a chandelier falls to the stage at Christine’s feet at the end of the first act.

“It’s a bit daunting — the first time I thought I was going to be sick,” Grant said. “The other thing is it swings differently in every city.”

Performing the longest-running Broadway musical has it challenges. More than 80 million people have seen the play worldwide, according to the show’s official Web site, Adams said it’s important that each production of Phantom has its own interpretation.

“There are some interpretations where they bring up the more animalistic, monster side of him,” he said. “But I think the thing that is most important is the human side in this person who is rejected and shunned and incredibly lonely and isolated.”

The musical was made into a movie in 2004, starring Emmy Rossum as Christine and Gerald Butler as the Phantom. Webber is working on a sequel to the musical, titled Phantom: Once Upon Another Time, according to the New York Post.

The Phantom of the Opera is running at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center through Nov. 22 with tickets starting at $19.50.