Behind "The Phantom of the Opera," its 25 years of success

The Phantom of the Opera
Ana Marina (R) and Anthony Warlow (L) pose during a performance media call for the musical 'The Phantom of the Opera' at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney on May 14, 2008.
Getty Images

(CBS News) The word "phantom" can mean "illusion," but the record-breaking success of "The Phantom of the Opera" is quite real.

Over the weekend, the record-breaking musical marked an unprecedented milestone: 25 years on Broadway.

"The Phantom of the Opera" for 25 years: The Christines
The Phantoms of "The Phantom of the Opera"
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Some "Phantom" fans "crazy"

For a quarter of a century, "The Phantom of the Opera" has been delivering the music of the night at the Majestic Theater. With more than 10,000 performances, it is, by far, the longest-running Broadway musical of all time.

The Phantom was created in 1909 by French writer Gaston Laroux, and the character was first brought to life in a 1925 silent film. But it was the musical that really put The Phantom on the map. The show has played in 145 cities across 27 countries, and in New York alone has grossed nearly $900 million.

Today, the show's effects -- including the scene where a chandelier crashes to the stage -- can seem almost quaint, but when the show debuted in January 1988, starring Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, its visual effects were considered stunning. Director Hal Prince gave CBS News a behind-the-scenes and below-the-stage tour.

Hal Prince, director of "The Phantom of the Opera," said he's always hated when people described the show as about a chandelier. "Because it isn't, of course," he said.

The show is, at its heart, a love story -- something that came as a surprise, even to the show's composer and writer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who, along with Sarah Brightman, recorded his recollections for the anniversary celebration.

Webber said, "I remember finding the book in New York and reading it one afternoon and thinking it's not the same as I remember it. It's not a sort of funny thing with somebody coming out and saying, 'Boo' from behind a chandelier. It's actually about a romance."

Sierra Boggess is the latest to play the female lead, Christine Daae. Boggess said of the role, "It is able to withstand the test of time because it's still current, and it's the ultimate underdog story."

Hugh Panaro, one of 12 men to play the phantom, has donned the mask for more than 1,900 performances. He said, "I think this show touches all of us on a very deep level that transcends the beautiful score or the scenery or the costumes or the love triangle. I think it hits us on a pretty primal level."

When the show first opened in New York, it had already been a hit for two years in London. Still, not all the critics took to it kindly. One reviewer in the New York Times called it, "psychologically lightweight."

Yet the show not only survived, it has thrived.

Prince said the show's appeal is in the romance. He said, "I just think everybody wants a little idealistic romance in his life. I don't think that will ever change. As long as there are people, they yearn for some connection to other people."

Watch Michelle Miller's full report in the video above.