(READER BEWARE: SPOILERS!)
The eerie glow from the full moon casts ominous shadows upon a dimly lit stage. Through the swirls of fog, we see figures emerge from behind the old, faded tombstones. The Company members come together to deliver what is at once an invitation and a warning—to follow them (if we dare) through the twists and turns of the spooky tale they will tell. (GOOSEBUMPS)
As our story begins, we meet Brooke Rodgers and her classmates at Woods Mill Middle School, where the halls are buzzing with the exciting news: this year’s Fall Show will be… scary. When Brooke and her best friend, Zeke, hear that it’s called The Phantom, they can’t believe their luck—scary is like, their thing! Maybe they’ll have a real shot at getting good parts this year! (Not that Brooke wasn’t brilliant in her critically acclaimed turn as “Woman 6” in last year’s Guys and Dolls.) When Ms. Walker finally posts the cast list, Brooke and Zeke can’t believe it: they’re the leads in A SUPER SCARY PLAY!
At their first rehearsal, Zeke asks the question on everyone’s mind: is it true that this play is cursed? Ms. Walker tries to dismiss this as nonsense and change the subject, but Tina Powell, Brooke’s overzealous understudy, heard the same rumor from her uncle, and would be all too happy to spill the juicy details if Ms. Walker won’t. Ms. Walker gives in and reluctantly recounts the legend, with Tina ready to add all the bits that Ms. Walker would rather leave out.
THE LEGEND—which, mind you, is nothing more than a fanciful story with no truth to it whatsoever—begins 73 years ago at this very school, when Ms. Walker’s great-grandmother, Abigail Walker, first attempted to produce The Phantom. The boy who discovered the mysterious script was cast in the title role, but tragically, he would never get to perform it. On the night the play was to open, the boy vanished, never to be seen again. The principal closed the production and fired Abigail, blaming her for the tragedy. She was ordered to destroy all the scripts, but kept one copy—a secret discovered only once she died. As for the boy, some say his soul remains here to this day. According to the legend—which, Ms. Walker reminds us, is only an old theatre superstition—the boy haunts the school to prevent the play from ever being performed.
After rehearsal, Brooke and Zeke sneak onto the stage to get a closer look at the trapdoor, which was built for the original production but never used. Even though Ms. Walker warned that it’s not yet safe, their curiosity gets the better of them—they pull the lever, and the platform takes a terrifying plunge, down what seems like a mile below the stage, to a dark, creepy tunnel. Sensing something moving in the shadows, they decide they better turn back—not that they’re scared or anything, of course.
When they reach the stage, a strange man they’ve never seen before is standing there, glaring at them. He identifies himself as Emile, the school’s night janitor, and tells them to stay away from the trapdoor for their own safety—it’s dangerous. “WATCH YOUR STEP,” he warns, or they could find themselves falling to their deaths.
The next day at school, Brooke finds a scary mask in her locker, with a note: “STAY AWAY FROM MY HOME SWEET HOME”. Another one of Zeke’s practical jokes, she presumes. Nice try, Zeke!
When Brooke shows up early for drama class, she finds a cute boy sitting in her chair. He shyly and awkwardly introduces himself as Brian, a new kid from Indiana. Their instant attraction has them both flustered and tripping over their words, embarrassing themselves more and more. There’s something about him unlike anything Brooke’s ever seen… those eyes… wait, snap out of it! What’s gotten into her? Why can’t she stop flirting—I mean BLURTING!—all the wrong things? It’s like every time he looks at her, she turns into a BABBLING BROOKE! Ms. Walker arrives and assigns Brian the job of helping Tina with scenery, since all the acting roles have already been cast.
Later, Zeke admits to Brooke that he hasn’t actually bothered to read the play, but “plans to listen to the album”. Album? Zeke must think they’re doing a totally different show! Brooke realizes she’ll have to catch him up quickly or rehearsal will be a disaster. The Phantom, she explains, is one of many musicals inspired by an old Gaston Leroux novel (“Gaston? Like in Beauty in the Beast?”), but their version is about a talented singer named Esmerelda… (“Esmerelda? Like in Hunchback?”) Ugh, Zeke! No, this isn’t an animated movie. Please just LISTEN!
THE STORY OF THE PHANTOM, Brooke explains, takes place at an ancient theater which is rumored to be haunted by a Phantom. This Phantom, as it turns out, is not actually a ghost, but a man who lives in the tunnels beneath the theater—a gifted composer cast out by society because of the scars on his face, which he now keeps covered with a mask. The Phantom and Esmerelda secretly fall in love and connect through their shared language of music. Esmerelda sees that there’s more to him than his physical appearance, and that he’s kind and talented, just misunderstood. But Esmerelda finds herself torn between her feelings for the Phantom and for Raoul, her handsome childhood friend. The story takes a tragic turn when Raoul attacks the Phantom, killing him. The Phantom welcomes his death, unable to bear the thought of a life without Esmerelda, but Esmerelda is devastated, finally realizing that her true love is gone forever. Unable to forgive Raoul, she runs away, never to be seen again. Mysteriously, the Phantom’s body disappears, and it is said that his tortured spirit still haunts the theater, forever waiting to sing one last duet with Esmerelda.
During rehearsal the next day, there is a sudden blackout. A single spotlight appears above the actors, revealing a figure concealed by a phantom mask and cloak. “STAY AWAY FROM MY HOME SWEET HOME!” the Phantom warns in a terrifying voice. The students scream and run. An ominous laugh echoes in the distance as lights fade to black.
The sounds of funeral bells and ghostly spirits fill the air as we return to the troubled town of Woods Mill, Ohio, on another chilly October day. (ENTR’ACTE) Brooke tells Zeke that he didn’t scare her with his little prank in rehearsal the other day. Zeke insists that he doesn’t know what she’s talking about—he was at the dentist. But was he really? Zeke just giggles and flashes a toothy grin, before running off.
During rehearsal that day, a foreboding feeling washes over Brooke, distracting her. Always happy to provide help that no one has requested, Tina feeds her the next line: “IS SOMEBODY DOWN THERE?” But a different question has Brooke frozen in her tracks: is somebody up there, in the catwalks? It must be Zeke, who just left for the bathroom… but how did he get up there so quickly? Suddenly, the Phantom swings down on a rope. Advancing towards Brooke, he beckons in that same twisted tone: “STAY AWAY FROM MY HOME SWEET HOME!” Brooke collapses to the floor in shock. Lights flicker, and the Phantom is gone. As Brian rushes to Brooke’s side, she starts to come to, but she looks cold and pale—as if she’s seen a ghost.
After school, Tina leaves a voicemail for Brooke. Just, you know, out of her totally selfless and genuine concern for Brooke’s well-being, since she looked so awful (no offense) after Zeke pulled that childish stunt in rehearsal. She should make sure to get plenty of rest and not rush back before she’s ready… or once she starts to feel ready… or, um, at all. Just kidding! But seriously, Tina can totally handle playing Esmerelda while Brooke is out. Just, like, as a favor to Brooke, of course. Cause hey, what’s an UNDERSTUDY BUDDY for? Tina finds Ms. Walker, who is at the end of her rope about this Phantom thing. While the supposed “curse” is obviously nonsense, even she must admit that things have been pretty strange lately… it’s as if someone is trying awfully hard to prevent her from avenging her great-grandmother’s firing. Still, no—she doesn’t need Tina to go on for Esmerelda. (Things aren’t that desperate.)
The next day, Zeke, Brian, and Brooke (who is feeling much better, thank you very much, Tina) discover a message scrawled on the backdrop in red paint: “STAY AWAY FROM MY HOME SWEET HOME!” Brian is outraged that Zeke would vandalize the backdrop he worked so hard on. Brooke vouches for Zeke—he likes a good scare, but he’d never do something like this. Tina, Ms. Walker, and Principal Stine recoil in horror when they see the damage. Tina discovers (or does she?) a trail of paint drops leading to locker 172… Zeke’s locker. Inside, they find a fresh can of red paint. Zeke tries to deny it, but it’s useless—he’s caught red can-ded. Desperate to explain who else could have opened his locker, Zeke suggests Emile, the night janitor—he’s probably got keys to everything. “What?” asks a bewildered Principal Stine. “There is no night janitor.” Ms. Walker informs Zeke that he is out of the play, if they don’t have to cancel it altogether. Principal Stine adds that Zeke might be suspended. Or worse.
Well, that escalated quickly. Brooke, Zeke, and Brian realize they’ll have to take matters into their own hands if they want to save the play. Maybe if they can solve the mystery themselves, Zeke will get his part back! They make a list of possible suspects to answer the big question: WHODUNIT? Brooke suggests Emile… if he’s not the night janitor, then who is he? Zeke considers Tina, but the motive doesn’t quite fit… to go on as Esmerelda, she’d need Brooke kicked out… so why frame Zeke? Finally, they consider: maybe there really is a ghost, determined to stop the show! Zeke is pretty sure he knows where to start looking.
Once again, they sneak into the auditorium. As Brooke and Zeke approach THE TRAPDOOR platform, Brian starts to get cold feet. Brooke and Brian share a tender moment and he decides he’ll be brave… for her. Zeke groans… “seriously?” Brooke shoots Zeke a dirty look. Zeke gives the lever a pull. Down once more! Shrieks fill the air as the 73-year-old elevator twists and turns its way to the sub-basement.
Flashlights in hand, they explore the sub-basement, and soon encounter Emile. He warned them so many times to stay away—the note in Brooke’s locker, the backdrop, the disturbances in rehearsals… why didn’t they listen? There is no Phantom, he admits—he just thought he could use that old legend to keep them away from his home. He explains that he really was a janitor many years ago, but when the school laid him off, he fell on hard times. With nowhere else to go, he figured he could live here until he got back on his feet. He wouldn’t be bothering anyone—no one would even know. But when this Phantom play caused the trapdoor to start being used again, he feared he would soon be found out. He couldn’t risk that. “It’s MY HOME SWEET HOME,” he explains, “and it’s all that I got.” Zeke promises they won’t tell a soul. “No,” Emile replies, “I don’t imagine you will.” The trio screams, and before Emile can explain, they start to run, twisting and turning through the sub-basement’s labyrinth of tunnels. “Come back, please!” Emile cries. “I just want to speak to you!” But if he’s sincere, they’re not about to turn around and find out. Fearing he could catch up at any moment, they keep running, eventually escaping via the elevator.
The next day, Ms. Walker tells the students that a search found no sign of anyone living in the sub-basement. Even the furniture they claim to have seen has just… vanished. Nonetheless, she believes them, as they all have the same story. Zeke is cleared for now, and back in the play.
After a few relatively drama-free weeks of rehearsal, OPENING NIGHT finally arrives. Tina tells Brooke to break a leg, and, in a moment of uncharacteristic sincerity, that she’s actually really great in the show. Places. Zeke enters the backstage area in costume. Unseen by Zeke, the Phantom enters in an identical costume, grabs Zeke, and drags him out of sight. (ONE LAST GOAL)
THE PERFORMANCE begins. The Phantom enters, and when Brooke sees the green eyes behind the mask, she realizes instantly: it isn’t Zeke! What is happening? There is something about him unlike anything she’s ever seen… and yet, also something familiar. “Please trust me,” the Phantom whispers.
“Why do you haunt this theater?” Brooke asks, as Esmerelda. “MY STORY is a sad one,” the Phantom answers in song. He was cast in a play which was to be performed on this very stage. It should have been the best night of his life—but instead, it would be the last. In the darkness, he couldn’t see where he was going, and, unaware that his trapdoor had been left open, he fell through the opening in the stage and tumbled to his death. He’s been haunting this theater ever since—not to prevent the play from being performed, but hoping it would be, so that he could finally perform his starring role. Now he has done so, but it’s bittersweet, as it means he’ll have to say goodbye to someone special—you, Esmerelda. Meeting her has made all of his suffering worthwhile. But as much as he wishes he could stay, he’s afraid he must move on, his one last goal now accomplished. The Phantom speaks directly to Brooke, whose performance as the astonished Esmerelda is unusually convincing tonight. “Thank you, for giving me an ending to my tragic play.” He backs off the stage and disappears in a burst of fog. The audience roars as the lights fade.
After the show, Ms. Walker congratulates the cast on a tremendous performance that would have made her great-grandmother proud. Zeke was “rather remarkable tonight,” she comments to Brooke. “But when you see him, let him know that we are going to have a little talk about rewriting the play on opening night!” Brooke finds Zeke, who is shocked to learn that the show already happened—he must have been knocked out the whole time! Brooke tells him that someone else performed his role, and, while she knows this is impossible, she thinks it was… him—the boy from the first production, 73 years ago. Before Zeke can process this, the Phantom emerges from the shadows. Brooke rushes to him, and when she reaches to remove his mask, he does not resist—perhaps wanting her to finally know the truth. Brooke sees THE PHANTOM UNMASKED for the first time—it’s Brian. There is a blinding burst of light, followed by darkness. When lights return, Brian is gone. Brooke and Zeke are alone on the auditorium stage, Brooke still holding Brian’s mask. Lights flicker as Brian’s ghostly voice fills the auditorium: “Goodbye, Brooke.” Brooke instinctively grabs Zeke’s hand as lights fade to black.
Lights slowly shift to the dimly lit cemetery we saw earlier. This time, we notice one particular tombstone that is smaller than the others—as if for a boy who never made it to adulthood. If we look carefully, we can see that the inscription dates back 73 years. The Company member who played Brooke enters alone and lays a rose at the grave. Slowly, through the swirls of fog, the rest of the Company members start to appear. They come together and remind us once more of their warning—that their tale would fill our souls with fright and give us goosebumps in the night. (GOOSEBUMPS [REPRISE])