6. The Phantom of the Opera

Points – 121

Votes – 18

Firsts – 3

The Phantom of the Opera is the longest running show on Broadway by around three and a half thousand performances.  It is the second longest running musical in the West End.  Productions have taken place in over thirty countries.  It won the Tony Award and Lawrence Olivier Award for Best Musical.  The film was nominated for three Oscars.  It spawned the most unusual of musical theatre feats and got a full sequel, Love Never Dies.  Until 2014 it was considered to be the most financially successful creative work of all time, grossing a worldwide six billion dollars.  It is fair to say that Phantom has done well for itself.

It all came about when Andrew Lloyd Webber decided that he was interested in creating a love story – something he didn’t really feel he had done up to that point.  In this French novel by Gaston Leroux, he found the right story.  Jim Steinman was his first choice to write with – and what a different show it may have been then – but it would take a while longer for them to collaborate, until Whistle Down The Wind in 1996.  I the end he worked with Richard Stilgoe, and then on an overhaul with Charles Hart.  Webber’s wife, Sarah Brightman, would go on to play Christine (Nepotism? I mean, of course, but also she is very good) but the role of the Phantom was trickier.  Webber had conversations with Michael Crawford years before, but it was when he accompanied Brightman to a singing lesson and heard exactly the voice he was looking for inside whilst waiting for the previous client to finish, that the final piece of the puzzle clicked into place.  Crawford had history in musical theatre – she shared top billing in the film version of Hello, Dolly with Barbara Streisand and Walter Matthau – but had been largely known to the public as scrawny, high-pitched clutz Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em for years and so was not the obvious choice.  The obvious choice is not always the right one however, and his performance was a sensation.

Whilst the show does not have some of the controversies associated with some others on this list, it has been dogged with plagiarism claims.  Ray Repp claimed Webber had stolen his song to write the title song, but was hit with a counterclaim that he had stolen Close Every Door To Me from Webber first.  The estate of Puccini settled out of court that he had stolen work from the Italian master.  It is probably Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters who dealt with the situation best, feeling that their track had been stolen for the song Phantom of the Opera, but responding with “Life’s too long to bother with suing Andrew f***kng Lloyd Webber”.

Where there is a film version, I have usually spent some time talking about it, but this one was a particularly underwhelming affair, receiving fair reviews, but nothing breath-taking, and I feel it is one of the more forgotten musical theatre films.  Let’s have three unbelievable facts though.  1 – Ramin Karimaloo has played Raul on stage, played Christine’s father in the film, and then played The Phantom in the West End.  2 – They couldn’t make a very good wax figure of Emmy Rossum, so instead they got her to play it by just standing very, very still.  3 – Jennifer Ellison off Brookside and Dancing on Ice is one of the leads.  I know which I find the most unbelievable fact.

My sister Kaila worked on the show, so I felt very privileged to have been invited to see the dress rehearsal of the show at The Royal Albert Hall for its 25th anniversary, an incredible sounding nine years ago.  Phantom has never been a big one for me, but the grandeur and majesty of seeing it happen was something pretty special, and I am in no way surprised by its long list of accolades.

Alex’s Song Choice – “The Phantom of the Opera” – although can I recommend a listen to the Nightwish version as well.

Lockdown Pick – “(Face)Masquerade