WESTY 2023 Honoree: Concertmaster who was ‘only ’ there for 33 of Phantom’s 35 years

After 35 years, Phantom of the Opera ended on April 16. Concertmaster Joyce Hammann started there two years after it opened. Now she looks back fondly on the longest running show in Broadway history.

| 05 May 2023 | 01:10

As the longest running show on Broadway, the end of “Phantom of the Opera” on April 16 seemed like a tragedy to many of its fans. The musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber won seven Tony awards (out of the 10 it was nominated for) including Best New Musical. “We’ve had so many people come down and they’ve seen it 25 times or 100 times,” says Joyce Hammann, who has been the concertmaster for “Phantom” since 1990.

“I’m sort of a newbie,” she jests. Despite not being there for the opening of “Phantom,” as she came on two years later, Hammann was excited to be a part of the final Broadway performance on April 16.

Hammann always knew she was going to be a musician. “I am from a musical family,” she says. “My mom was a concert pianist and my dad played French horn.” At 10 years old Hammann became the youngest member of The St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra. By 11 she knew she’d be playing the violin for the rest of her life. She went on to study at Juilliard.

Hammann had her start on Broadway after a fellow violinist she knew hired her as the concertmaster for “Gypsy.” “Prior to that I was unaware of Broadway even being a career choice for me,” she says. Her experience at “Gypsy” helped her catch the eye of the concertmaster at “Phantom of the Opera” so when her predecessor left, Hammann was suggested for the role.

In the past 33 years, along with balancing her steady position at “Phantom” Hammann has kept busy. “I’ve done everything from soloed with Bruce Springsteen to played with Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson.” Her violin can also be heard in the background of some hit shows including “Crazy Ex Girlfriend” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

While Hammann is sad to see “Phantom of the Opera” go, she is excited to start a new stage in her career, especially with her upcoming work as a substitute musician on Broadway. “Being a sub on Broadway is probably one of the hardest things that one can ever do,” she says. “Because you have to wait by the phone, you’ve got to be prepared for whatever show it is that you’re doing. And usually subs have three or four shows that they’re subbing on. It’s just a lot.”

“Phantom,” like many other shows, was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite being the third highest grossing Broadway musical of all time earning $1.3 billion, when theaters reopened in fall 2021 it struggled with bringing audiences back to what they were pre-pandemic. However, when the show’s closing was announced, suddenly seats were full.

The Broadway classic also suffered from being too expensive for its own good. With 130 total cast, crew and orchestra, and a production rate of $950,000 a week for eight shows, “Phantom of the Opera” was expensive to operate.

“I think all of us just got so used to the fact that everybody loves it so much that it would just run forever. And I just figured I would probably die before before it close...I am going to really miss it. I’m going to miss the people. I’m going to miss the the regularity of having a home to go to in the city,” said Hammann.

“It is closing I know, and my brain is trying to adjust,” she said.