It’s almost 30 years since my first acquaintance with the Phantom. One cold February morning in 1984 while I was soaking myself in a long hot bath, Andrew Lloyd Webber telephoned me for a gossip. He dropped into the conversation the idea of making a musical out of The Phantom of the Opera. Even in my prune-like condition, I recognized Andrew had come up with another great idea.
We screened copies of the 1925 Lon Chaney silent movie and the later wartime version with Claude Rains as the Phantom. Though very enjoyable, neither one made us shout “Eureka!” So we managed to find a copy of the novel by Gaston Leroux, which was out of print, and decided that we preferred that original storyline.
The original production went into rehearsal in London on 18 August 1986. Director Hal Prince and choreographer Gillian Lynne assembled a wonderful cast and after several weeks of exhilarating mayhem Phantom opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre on October 9, and immediately proceeded to become one of London’s greatest ever musical hits.
Eighteen months later our trio of original stars–Michael Crawford, Sarah Brightman and Steve Barton–opened to rapturous applause on Broadway where the show is still running triumphantly at the Majestic Theatre making it the longest-running musical in Broadway’s history.
During its almost 30 years, Phantom has become the most phenomenal success of all time, breaking box-office records worldwide in countless sell-out productions. Since 1986, only the original version has been presented around the world (with the exception of Poland and Hungary which were non-replica productions) and its brilliant design by Maria Björnson has become synonymous with Andrew’s sensational score. Just before Maria died at a tragically early age she and I had started discussing a different set design, one that would do more to contrast the Phantom’s darker backstage world with that of the traditional opera world onstage.
Andrew agreed with my proposal, that it was time to give Phantom a fresh look, so in 2008 I approached theatre and opera designer Paul Brown to see if he was interested in taking over the baton from Maria to bring his own style and vision to our notion. It turned out that Maria had a special place in Paul’s life as at the beginning of his career he had been a young assistant to her at the Royal Opera House. The result of Paul’s long-developed ideas for this project–which took a hiatus while Andrew produced Love Never Dies–is a new version of Phantom that uses a more visceral dramatic approach to create a visual feast, giving audiences the chance to see their favorite musical all over again through new eyes.
Putting together the rest of the new creative team for this Phantom, following in the footsteps of Hal Prince and Gillian Lynne, was a daunting but invigorating task. Joining Paul Brown, my choice of director was always going to be Laurence Connor who I first met when he became the Associate Director on the London production of Phantom. Since then he has directed acclaimed versions of Miss Saigon and Oliver!, and co-directed the hugely successful new production of Les Misérables. He also recently staged the triumphant 25th Anniversary production of Phantom at the Royal Albert Hall. As choreographer, we both wanted to work with Matthew Bourne’s talented protégé, Scott Ambler, who I had first worked with on My Fair Lady a few years ago. To light the show we are lucky enough to have one of the world’s greatest lighting designers, Paule Constable, and to create the sound the incomparable Mick Potter. Maria still remains at the heart of the new Phantom with her glorious costumes, some of which are designs found in her archive that she created for the original and were never used.
This new version of Phantom premiered in the UK in 2012 and was immediately embraced by both audiences and critics alike, breaking records throughout its sellout British tour. For the American production we have been able to build on our British success and fine-tune some of the staging, including making the famous chandelier even more spectacular. We all believe that you will fall in love with the music of the night all over again, as the Phantom is reborn for the 21st Century.
We offer you a treat. Click youtube.com/watch?v=SV-JXWG6N-4