For as long as “The Phantom of the Opera” has been on Broadway in New York, Emilio Benoit has cleaned the Majestic Theatre, the production’s home. Now, Broadway’s longest-running show is set to end at the start of next year — but Benoit has hardly grown bored.
“I’m never tired” of the show, he said. “I love it.”
He started working as a theater cleaner in 1984, a few years before “The Phantom of the Opera” made its Broadway debut. Before that, he worked in a factory that produced women’s handbags. “I was making not too much — and working hard, too,” Benoit said. “When I got home, after 5 o’clock, 4 o’clock, I was almost dead.”
It was his wife, he said, who urged him to consider working at the Majestic Theatre instead, a job which offered more stability.
Benoit’s schedule each day at the theater follows the course of the show; he starts cleaning the bathrooms and lobby once all audience members are seated and then again after intermission, locking up when the theater is empty. Dressed in a formal suit with a hat that makes him feel like a “general,” he said, Benoit also ushers attendees off of the street and into the theater. The eight shows each week are split equally between Benoit and another cleaner.
The best part of the job, Benoit said, is meeting “thousands of people from all around the world” who’ve come to see the show — including some Spanish-speaking celebrities, like Marc Anthony. He chats with the Broadway actors, too.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, meant time spent away from people — and from work, when Broadway shut down. The feeling of being cooped up at home didn’t sit well with Benoit, who welcomed the chance to return to the job when the opportunity first arose. Early in the summer of last year, he and a handful of other cleaners were called back to prepare 17 theaters for their reopening.
“It was terrible,” he said of the state that theaters had fallen into, since being forced to close. “We started cleaning from theater to theater: dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms, throwing garbage away.”
There was a new focus, too, on sanitizing handrails and other surfaces with which theater-goers were in near-constant contact. When “The Phantom of the Opera” started back up again in the fall of 2021, Benoit didn’t feel worried for his own safety; masking was enforced from the start.
Even at home, when he’s not on the job, Benoit remains hands-on and carefree. He enjoys documentaries and watches YouTube videos to learn new things, but also tends to his yard with his son and gardens alongside his wife. Their garden, he said, is filled with flowers.
With reporting by Molly Colgan and Daisy Badillo.
The best part of the job ... is meeting “thousands of people from all around the world.” Emilio Benoit