Patrick Healy's lede for today's front-page NYT story on the 10,000th(!) performance of Phantom says a lot:
“The Phantom of the Opera” will make show business history on Saturday with the 10,000th Broadway performance of an $8 million production that became an $845 million hit. But it is also something much more. It is the musical that has come to define modern Broadway by proving the purchasing power of women and tourists, the durability of repeat business and the lure of spectacle: ingredients for success embraced by producers of “The Lion King,” “Wicked,” “Mamma Mia!” and other smashes.When he tells how much some of those initial investors have made, you can see why some monied folk still chase the Broadway dream.
While “Phantom” has prospered from unparalleled word of mouth, a show as much for sightseers as for theatergoers, its unprecedented Broadway run has hardly been a foregone conclusion. When it opened on Jan. 26, 1988, big hits were few, and roughly half of Broadway’s theaters were empty. Yet thanks to persistent marketing, strict quality control and flexibility in ticket pricing (the worst seats can now be had for only $26.50), “Phantom” survived — in fact thrived — when shows with bigger stars and better reviews brought down their curtains.