The journey that led Laird Mackintosh to close out The Phantom of the Opera was long and rich. He had initially ended his run with the Broadway production in March, thunderously delivering the iconic last line of the show, “it’s over now, the music of the night.”
Mackintosh had planned to attend the final April 16 performance as an audience member, but when he received the surprising call the Thursday of the last week of shows to come back and cover the title role, Mackintosh stepped up to the plate.
“It’s very tough circumstances because everybody in the cast was really pulling for Ben and it was just one of the situations where he just could not come back,” Mackintosh said.
Mackintosh had done the Friday and final public performance on Saturday night, which had an extended curtain call. But when it became clear that principal Ben Crawford—who had a bacterial infection—would be unable to close the show, Mackintosh was asked to don the beloved mask once more, in a performance that would be sealed in Broadway history.
“It was such a thrill and an honor, Mackintosh said.
The final show was an invite-only audience, comprised of Phantom family and alumni, and Broadway stars such as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Glenn Close. But Mackintosh remained “still, and calm and focused,” in his preparation for the historic closing show.
“This was almost too important a show to get nervous for,” Mackintosh said. “I just knew that I had to do a good performance.”
Mackintosh added that “fortunately it all came off well, and from all of us on stage, I know we gave a really heartfelt performance.”
Following the last performance, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sarah Brightman, and producer Cameron Mackintosh took to the stage for an otherworldly curtain call, which included a rendition of “The Music of the Night,” which the final and original cast serenaded the composer with.
Mackintosh, who joined the Broadway production in 2013 not only as the loveable and beleaguered opera manager Monsieur André but as a Phantom understudy, said it was particularly touching when he initially closed out his tenure with the production as Phantom back on March 6.
“It was an emotional performance,” Mackintosh said.
Mackintosh, a native of Alberta, Canada, has a rich history with The Phantom of the Opera that dates back to 1993, when he first played the Porter/Marksman for the Toronto production, eventually playing Raoul and understudying Phantom. He then joined the Broadway production, where he met his wife Polly Baird, the production dance supervisor, dance captain, and swing who has played Meg Giry, the ballet dancer and confidant of Christine Daaé. Baird is also the youngest person to have joined the production.
“That is another wonderful blessing of that show—probably the biggest one, was meeting her,” Mackintosh said.
Mackintosh played Monsieur André from 2013 to 2019, while also understudying Phantom, which he played more than 200 times on Broadway, for stretches of up to a month. Both roles have a similar vocal range, which Mackintosh said allowed him to easily transition between the characters. But performing at a Broadway level, either as an understudy, or eight times a week, requires a certain amount of energy and stamina, especially in a long-running show, Mackintosh said.
“You have to be ready to give 100 percent every time,” Mackintosh said. “It’s the great challenge and great thrill of performing.”
Being part of The Phantom of the Opera was a special experience, Mackintosh said. He has worked with Hal Prince, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Gillian Lynne, and production supervisor Seth Skylar-Heyn.
After his March show, Mackintosh took time to meet fans who had been standing at the stage door on 45th Street to get a final glimpse of the veteran performer. Some knew it was Mackintosh’s last performance, and wanted to greet and congratulate him.
“I was very fortunate to have supporters and fans,” Mackintosh said.
Phantom lovers weathered the news that the beloved musical would reach its end, first in February, and then via extension, in April. Broadway has struggled to rebound since reopening during the pandemic, and Phantom, a lavish show with an expansive set, large orchestra, and elaborate costumes, announced it would close, citing ticket sales and inflation.
It was a realization that was hard to accept, Mackintosh said.
“I think it became so much a part of the fabric of all of our lives, that the news that it was closing has almost seemed unbelievable, and certainly surreal at times, partly I think because the show has just been so successful that you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that it would just continue to run,” Mackintosh said.
One of the reasons the musical has stood the test of time, hitting a staggering 35 years on January 26, is the timeless and haunting love story between Phantom and Christine.
“It is convoluted, but there’s an intense purity to his feeling and emotion for the object of his love, Christine,” Mackintosh said. “And yet, he does not see that reciprocated or fulfilled at the end. Or even more poignant perhaps, he does see it reciprocated from her, and yet she still chooses to go the other direction.”
Fully portraying that role not only requires a strong vocal performance, but a high level of physicality. Mackintosh has a strong dance background, starting his career with the National Ballet of Canada, which he says has helped him navigate the physical challenges the role demands.
In particular, Mackintosh points to the grand and elegant staging involved in “The Music of the Night,” the famous boat ride at the end of the title number, and hovering in a mechanically operated angel while Christine and Raoul express their love for one another in “All I Ask of You.” Staying in that angel, which occurs near the close of the first act, is one of the more physically demanding aspects of the role, Mackintosh said.
“You basically have to be hunched over in a very uncomfortable position for you know, fifteen minutes, and then you have to pop up and sing a controlled and beautiful phrase,” Mackintosh said. “That is one of the more challenging parts of the show, for sure.”
Mackintosh also spoke of the thrilling and all-encompassing moments shared between Phantom and Christine in the fan-favorite title song, which culminates in a boat ride on a candelabra-filled stage. Those moments are enchanting, somewhat nerve-racking, and always fantastic, Mackintosh said.
“When I think about that sequence and the magic that is created on that stage, the illusion of the lake, I just think that is something that still holds up so incredibly,” Mackintosh said. “I absolutely just love that part of the show, and I think the audiences are just wowed by it.”
Of the enchanting boat ride, Mackintosh said “it always feels like a kind of a pinch me moment.”
Mackintosh has a rich resume, which includes Bert and Mr. Banks in the Disney Broadway tour of Mary Poppins. He would eventually make his Broadway debut in 2011 in the musical as Mr. Banks, an experience Mackintosh said he loved every second of. He has also performed with the Toronto-based Baroque opera company, Opera Atelier, and spent eight years with the Canadian Stratford Shakespeare Festival, where he first performed Freddy Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady.
He also played the esteemed linguistics teacher, Henry Higgins, in the National tour of the Lincoln Center Revival of My Fair Lady from 2019-2021, a role Mackintosh said he was very fortunate to play. But while Higgins has more onstage time and is a demanding role, Mackintosh concedes that Phantom is more challenging, likening the performance to being shot out of a cannon.
“I will say without question that Phantom is the most difficult role I’ve ever played,” Mackintosh said. “It is very, very intense, and that’s part of what makes it thrilling. You start at 110 percent, and you’re at 110 percent through the whole show, and you finish at 110 percent.”
Mackintosh pointed to the word “deftly,” which appears in the chilling and much-anticipated “The Music of the Night,” as a way to describe a salient characteristic of the Phantom.
“As the Phantom says, there’s a deftness that is required,” Mackintosh said. “Doing things deftly is something that the Phantom can do when he is in the mode of the outward presentation of the gentleman, seen when the mask is on. It’s something very different when the mask comes off and that contrast is something that you try to achieve when you’re playing the role.”
Navigating the duality between the Phantom with the mask off, and the unmasked, vulnerable Phantom, is one of the challenging and defining aspects of the role, Mackintosh said.
Peeling back the layers of the character, Mackintosh points to a “purity” associated with “The Music of the Night”, in that it is the one song in which the Phantom is able to communicate his deepest feelings and share the innermost workings of his soul. Leading up to the A-flat, in which the Phantom crescendos on the famous phrase, “let your soul take you where you want to be,” is another special moment and a fan favorite, that is replete with beautiful exposed high notes that sail over the audience, and requires a strong build-up.
Mackintosh added that while the Phantom is unhinged and has violent tendencies, he could feel the audience relate with the character, as evidenced by the audible sniffles and the spontaneous applause he sometimes heard at the end of the Phantom’s last line.
Calling the show’s closing the end of an era, Mackintosh takes solace in knowing that there are iterations of the show throughout the world, and that perhaps it may return in the years to come.