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"This chapter focuses on The Phantom of the Opera, the megamusical that perhaps most boldly faces the idea of disability head-on, as it stars a character whose face, as one journalist described it, looks 'like melted cheese' (Smith, 1995). The musical's approach to the Phantom's disability is remarkably layered and inconsistent; the Phantom is portrayed in numerous ways (monster, criminal, genius, god, ghost) and his physical disability blurs regularly with his 'soul;' which is where numerous characters locate the origin of his problems. His face and its famous mask covering are both feared and thrilled over, but with a reassuring dose of pity that allows the audience to feel comfortable leaning forward to catch a glimpse. How, in the supposedly more enlightened culture of the 1980s (and today, as the show continues to thrive), can we justify what is, at base, a modern version of a circus freak show? And how does the musical shield the audience from feeling that it is? The musical's atmosphere, style, music, and lyrics create such a seductive sense of romance and tragic inevitability-cushioned with an extra layer of 'historical' distance-that the discomfort we should feel is swept away by megamusical momentum."



Publication Date



Oxford University Press


New York, NY


Phantom of the Opera, megamusicals, the Other, disability, disfigurement


Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory | French and Francophone Literature | Gender and Sexuality | Inequality and Stratification | Literature in English, North America | Other Sociology | Other Theatre and Performance Studies | Playwriting | Sociology of Culture | Theatre History


In Blake Howe, Stephanie Jensen-Moulton, Neil Lerner, and Joseph Straus (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies. Dr. Sternfeld's chapter begins on page 795.


Oxford University Press