A trip to 'Phantom' is often thought of as a major event

Any world-weary theater vet who walks down 44th Street at 7:30 p.m. and spots the “Phantom of the Opera” line snaking out of the Majestic Theater and up Eighth Avenue can’t help but roll his eyes and wonder: Who are these people? How is it possible that none of them has seen this show before?

The answer, in short, is that most of them have.

A survey of the line at one Saturday matinee in December found many returnees who had bought tickets months in advance. The Moyer family from Bucks County, Pa., standing in line 45 minutes early, came to the show as part of a bus tour they signed up for over the summer.

Alexis Moyer was seeing the show for the third time and was dragging along her husband for his second. “I’m originally from New Jersey, and I’m used to coming into the city,” she said. “I married a Pennsylvanian, and he needs some culture.” They brought his side of the family, who had never seen the show before.

One married couple, Rick and Kathy Clauson, was seeing “Phantom” for the eighth time. They met as teachers at Delran High School in New Jersey, where they led a cultural outing club that they often brought to “Phantom.” Though Kathy now teaches at a college, Rick still heads the club and this time brought about 45 students.

The Clausons don’t have to stay with the kids, but they always do. “I could see it eight more times,” Kathy said. Other Broadway shows are different, in her opinion. “When we take them to ‘Rent,’ ” she says, “we go to a movie.”

Greg Corradetti, a senior account director who supervises the “Phantom” account at Serino Coyne, the show’s ad agency, says about 40%-50% of the Broadway audience has seen the show before, either on Broadway or elsewhere.

Alan Wasser, the general manager for all U.S. productions, says on the road, “If we go back to a city for the fifth, sixth, seventh time, a lot of those people will be seeing the show for the fifth, sixth, seventh time.”

Serino Coyne has been pushing this trend along. In June 2003, the agency began a “Remember Your First Time” campaign, putting that slogan on Gotham buses and running radio ads with audience members telling stories of their first time seeing the show. Corradetti says the campaign came “at a time when people weren’t sure the show would continue,” and it helped “Phantom” become a hot ticket again.

Much like one’s first time, a trip to “Phantom” is often thought of as a major event due to its iconic status and the glamour of its setting, the Paris Opera. Wasser recalls seeing the Los Angeles production one Saturday night at the end of its fourth year: “I noticed, in the audience, a lot of people wearing formal dress, tuxedos, almost prom wear. Out on the street, there were stretch limos. We’ve seen that in other cities, too.”

Not having been brought up on proms, foreigners have a different take on the show. Outside the Majestic, one security guard said he can spot non-American tourists by their behavior. “Americans like to stand in line,” he said. “Foreigners don’t stand in line. They know they have a seat.”

Even a passer-by walking down 44th Street probably could spot the tourists. As one woman from eastern Pennsylvania, there with her daughter, put it, “Do we look like we’re from New York?!”

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