I have been thinking a lot recently about the 1986 musical the Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber- as internet writers are wont to do.

 

To give a totally reductionist summary of the plot: the titular Phantom is a Victorian-era freak show act that escaped at took up residence in the boiler room/subterranean maze of a Parisian opera house. The Phantom is a genius who blackmails the opera company in a circuitous attempt to get a performer to fall in love with him.

 

Much has been said of the love triangle between the three leads of the play, but I have questions about the most basic logistics of the whole plan.

 

Surprisingly, it is reasonable to believe that there are caves below the opera house. Paris is lousy with subterranean caves. These caves present architectural challenges today because builders have to be careful that their structures don’t sink into an ancient mine or sinkhole. So, let’s assume that the Phantom spends most of his time deep under Paris sleeping, eating, and pooping in some hole.

 

It is also safe to assume that the Phantom is a flesh and blood human. Consider the fact that he has standard demands for the Opera House managers- a specific box overlooking the stage must remain empty and a 20,000 franc monthly fee must be left for him. Spirits don’t need money, but this also raises a good question. What does the Phantom do with all of this cash?

 

The story is set in 1870 France. According to this historical currency converter (created by a professor from the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study), 20,000 francs a month at that time would today be worth a hair over $100,000 USD today. Why? Surely, the goal is not to bankrupt the opera house. The Phantom derives a lot of enjoyment out of watching the operas, giving notes to the managers, and falling in love with cast members. By Act 3, the Phantom has written his own opera and has demanded the the opera house perform it. His entire plan would be ruined if the owners decided to cut losses and sell the place to some industrialist who will turn the whole building into a textile factory. He needs the opera house to stay up and running, but he also needs the monthly $100k salary. When the payment stops, the Phantom flies into a tantrum and murders a stagehand.

 

He must use the money to support his “phantoming” act at the opera house- harassing the crew, digging more tunnels, wearing fabulous capes and masks, et. al. This, however, poses more problems. The Phantom was self-admittedly born with a “terrifyingly deformed face.” He can’t simply jaunt down to the market to pick up a new hat and then scurry back down to his lair. He can’t walk around in a trench coat, scarf, and fedora like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle either. Even the most simple minded detective in Paris would be able to follow this bread trail. When we see the Phantom, he obviously has ample resources. His clothes are clean and pressed, and he doesn’t stink like a cave-dwelling squatter… presumably.  When I saw the play, I was in the mezzanine. If you sat closer and could smell the Phantom, please let me know in the comments… He has a variety of outfits, explosives, boats, candles, and other gadgets. How does he acquire this stuff without getting found out?

 

Why he needs money hinges on the same reason he started this whole Phantom of the Opera-shtick in the first place. This is the only way he can interact with others to get what he wants. Where he can’t intimidate people into giving him something, he can bribe them into doing what he needs. Let’s say a mysterious note and payment appeared at the tailor that said, “Leave a freshly laundered pair of britches at the location marked on the accompanying map.” It certainly would not be hard to find someone willing to do it if the money kept coming. If there is a Phantom of the Opera, there also needs to be a Phantom of the Butcher, Phantom of the Baker, and Phantom of the Candlestick-Maker.

“Are those day-old bagels?!  So it is to be war between us! If these demands are not met a disaster beyond all imagination will occur!”