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The Phantom returns and returns and returns to the Fox

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 8, 2009 - In the final scene of "The Phantom of the Opera," it's not clear what becomes of the infamous half-masked man who disappears in a puff of smoke. But at least in St. Louis, the Phantom lives to suffer, sing and stalk again.

Call it the "Phantom" phenomenon. When the musical opens at the Fox Theatre Sept. 30, it will be the sixth time it has played in St. Louis since 1993, a return rate matched by only one other U.S. city, Denver.

"It's absolutely this weird obsession," said Fox Theatricals Producer Mike Isaacson.

According to Isaacson, it's not just the unrequited love story of a talented-but-tortured soul and his youthful protege that packs the Fox each time. "The Phantom" is uniquely suited for this opulent venue, drawing not only St. Louisans, but Chicago theater lovers as well.

"The show looks fantastic in the Fox Theatre. The over-the-top nature of the show completely fits the over-the-top nature of the architectural design," Isaacson said.

While "Mamma Mia" has appeared at the Fox nearly as many times as "The Phantom," its runs last only one week each while the "Phantom" is onstage for four to six weeks at a time. Only one other production stands a good chance of eventually tying or exceeding the number of "Phantom" shows in St. Louis: "Wicked," which returns to town next summer for the third time.

The upcoming run of "The Phantom" will continue through Oct. 25. Isaacson predicts this sixth engagement won't be its final one: "If it's the last visit, it's because the show stops touring, not because we stop wanting it."

Nancy Larson is a freelance writer who has covered theater over the years in St. Louis.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.