''The Phantom of the Opera'' has garnered plenty of superlatives over the years, including the longest - running show in Broadway history.

But in recent months, it has also laid claim to a more unlikely title : pathbreaking musical of the Covid-19 era.

As theaters around the globe were abruptly shuttered by the pandemic, with no clear path to reopening in sight, the world tour of ''Phantom'' has been soldering on in Seoul, South Korea, playing eight shows a week.

And it has been drawing robust audiences to its 1000-seat theater, even after an outbreak led to a mandatory three-week shut down in April.

The musical with its 126-member company and hundreds of costumes and props, is believed to be the only large scale English-language production running anywhere in the world.

And it has remained opened not through social-distancing measures - a virtual impossibility in the theater,  either logistically or financially, many say   -but an approach grounded in strict hygiene.

And it's one that its composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, is arguing can show the way for the rest of the industry, a point he is hoping to demonstrate to the world, as he prepares to turn the Palladium, one of seven theaters he owns in London, into a laboratory for lessons learned in Seoul.

''I don't think we should just be sitting on our hands and saying, it's all doom and gloom, we can't do anything,'' he said in an interview recently. ''We have got to make the theaters as safe for everybody as we possibly can,'' he said.

And South Korea shows that it can work.

That the show, at the Blue Square cultural complex in central Seoul, has gone on is a testament not just to the protocols in the theater, but to South Korea's rigorous system of test, trace and quarantine, which has kept the virus largely under-control.

It was also a matter of sheer timing and luck, though it didn't seem that way at first.

When the tour's previous stop in Busan, South Korea's second-biggest city, wrapped in mid-February, the country was emerging as the largest epicenter of the pandemic.

The company mostly went home for a break to Britain, Italy, North America, Australia and elsewhere, Serin Kasif, vice president of Lloyd Webber's company, the Really Useful Group, and the producer of the tour, said she was fielding daily messages from company members anxious about whether to return.

The World Students Society thanks authors Jennifer Schuessler, and Su-Hyun Lee.


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