Book by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe, Charles Hart
adapted from the novel, Le Fantome de l’Opera, by Gaston Leroux

INFO:

Opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre (West End, London) September 27, 1986 Well over 10,000 performances there, after a 25 year-plus run.
The Majestic Theatre (Broadway) January 26, 1988. Well over 10,000 performances, the longest running Broadway show in history.
Original Director: Harold Prince
Original Choreographer: Gillian Lynne
Original Producer: Cameron Mackintosh
Original Leads: The Phantom: Michael Crawford    Christine: Sarah Brightman
Cast Size: Male: 6   Female: 4   Ensemble:   Large Total Cast Size: 10 plus a large ensemble, around 30 or more total.
Orchestra: About 28
Published Script: None
Production Rights: Rodgers & Hammerstein Library
Recordings: Numerous. The Broadway, and original West End, are good.
Film: Produced by Webber, it was fairly mediocre, though it did make money.
Other shows by the authors: Webber: Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, Joseph And His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Tell Me On A Sunday, Aspects Of Love, Sunset Boulevard, Starlight Express
Awards: Nominated for 9 Tonys, it won 7 including Actor (Crawford), Director (Prince), and Music.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

A gigantic show. If you’re wondering if you can pull it off, then you can’t. Fine for professional producers, large regional theaters, perhaps colleges and universities. Only the most developed and established companies of adults can do this thing at all, and you need resources.  I see that High Schools are doing it in some places.  I think this is a very poor choice for a High School.

Be Warned:

It’s a very odd story, really, about a weak-willed young woman who becomes the hypnotically-inspired singer of a mad-man’s dream. Obviously, the show has tens of millions of fans, so it’s perhaps silly to point out that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s not. It is pretty adult in subject matter and action, not for kids to do.

THE STORY: (This outline is from the Rodgers & Hammerstein Library site, the right-owners, with some additions of my own, and from other sources.)

ACT ONE: A prologue shows us the Paris Opera House in disrepair, and an auction taking place. An elderly man, Raoul (now in his 70s) attends, and watches as an old, destroyed chandelier, which famously fell years ago, is auctioned off. The chandelier rises as we start to hear the tale of the Phantom of the Opera, and we are transported back in time.

We are thrust in the middle of a rehearsal for the opera Hannibal. Monsieur Lefvre, the retiring manager of the Opera, is showing the new managers, Monsieurs Firmin and Andr, the great stage. As the prima donna, Carlotta, is singing, a backdrop falls to the floor, nearly killing her. The cry is raised, “It’s The Phantom of the Opera!” Upset, Carlotta refuses to sing.

Meg Giry, daughter of the ballet mistress, Madame Giry, suggests her friend, Christine Daae, take Carlotta’s place. Christine has been taking lessons from a mysterious new teacher. She auditions (“Think Of Me”), and gets the role.

At her triumph in the Opera, is Raoul, a nobleman and patron of the Opera. Raoul recognizes Christine as a childhood friend. He comes backstage after the performance to escort her to dinner, but Christine tells him she cannot go, because her teacher, “The Angel of Music,” is very strict.

When Raoul leaves Christine’s room, the Phantom appears. Christine is lured into the bowels of the Opera House (“The Phantom Of The Opera”), where the Phantom will continue her lessons.

He leads her to his underground lair, where he serenades her. (“The Music Of The Night”) She sees a frightening vision of herself in a wedding gown and faints, only to be awakened several hours later by the Phantom’s music on the organ. (“I Remember…”) Creeping up behind him, she rips off his mask. He wishes to be normal, and to be loved by Christine. (“Stranger Than You Dreamed It”) He takes her back to the surface.

The Phantom has sent notes to both the managers of the Opera, as well as Raoul, Madame Giry and Carlotta, which give instructions that Christine will have the lead in the new opera, Il Muto. (“Notes…”) The manager’s refuse to give in to the Phantom’s demands.

Il Muto proceeds as planned, with Carlotta in the lead (“Prima Donna”), and Christine in a secondary role. As promised, disaster strikes – the stage hand, Joseph Buquet, is killed, and Carlotta’s voice is stolen. (“Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh)

In the confusion, Raoul and Christine escape to the roof of the Opera House. There, with all of Paris around them, Christine tells Raoul; about her subterranean visit with the Phantom. (“why Have You brought Me Here”, “Raoul, I’ve Been There”)They pledge their love to one another. (“All I Ask Of You”) They cannot see the Phantom overhearing their vows of love. Enraged at Christine’s betrayal, the Phantom causes the final disaster of the night – the mighty chandelier comes crashing to the stage floor.

ACT TWO: The second act opens at a grand “Masquerade” Ball, held on the steps of the Paris Opera. No one has heard from the Phantom in six months. (“Why So Silent”) Christine and Raoul are engaged, but are keeping it a secret; Christine keeps her engagement ring on a chain around her neck.

Suddenly, the Phantom appears, disguised as The Red Death, and delivers to the managers a score from his opera, Don Juan Triumphant.

At first, the managers refuse to perform the strange, disturbing opera. Then, with the help of Raoul, they devise a plan to trap the Phantom, using Christine as bait. Plans for Don Juan Triumphant, and the trap, are made. They rehearse, knowing he’ll attend somehow. (“Notes…”/ “Twisted Every Way”) Christine is torn between her love for Raoul, and her gratitude to the Phantom, who has given her this chance at a starring role, and visits her father’s grave, longing for his advice. (Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”) There on the grave stands the Phantom, beckoning her to join him. She nearly falls under his spell, but Raoul appears and takes her away.

Don Juan Triumphant opens with Christine and Ubaldo Piangi, the Opéra’s principal tenor, singing the lead roles. (“Don Juan”) During their duet, Christine suddenly realizes that she is singing not with Piangi, but with the Phantom himself. (“The Point of No Return”) He expresses his love for her and gives her his ring, but Christine rips off his mask, exposing his deformed face to the shocked audience. As Piangi is found strangled to death backstage, the Phantom seizes Christine and flees the theatre. An angry mob led by Meg searches the theatre for the Phantom, while Madame Giry tells Raoul how to find the Phantom’s subterranean lair, and warns him to beware his Punjab lasso.

In the lair Christine is forced to don the doll’s wedding dress. (“Down Once More/Track Down This Murderer”) Raoul finds the lair, but the Phantom captures him with his lasso. He tells Christine that he will free Raoul if she agrees to stay with him forever; if she refuses, Raoul will die. (“Final Lair”) Christine tells the Phantom that it is his soul that is deformed, not his face, and kisses him, comforting him. The Phantom, having experienced kindness and compassion for the first time, sets them both free. Christine returns the Phantom’s ring to him, and he tells her he loves her. She cries, forces herself to turn away, and exits with Raoul. The Phantom, weeping, huddles on his throne and covers himself with his cape. The mob storms the lair and Meg pulls away the cape—but the Phantom has vanished; only his mask remains

THE SONGS:

“Think Of Me”, “Angel Of Music”, “The Phantom Of The Opera”, “The Music Of The Night”, “I Remember…”, “Stranger Than You Dreamed”, “Magical Lasso”, “Notes…/Prima Donna”, “Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh”, “Why Have You Brought Me Here”, “Raoul, I’ve Been There”, “All I Ask Of You”, “Masquerade/Why So Silent”, “Notes…/Twisted Every Way”, “We Have All Been Blind”, “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”, “Wandering Child…/Bravo, Monsieur”, “The Point Of No Return”, “Down Once More…/Track Down The Murderer”, “Final Lair”

Hits include “Think Of Me”, “The Music Of The Night”

MY OPINIONS:

This is my opinion. You can skip it, or ignore it if you like. But if you do, don’t be surprised if the music of the night you’re hearing turns out to be a dirge.

This show has made more money than any film or stage show in history, over 5.6 BILLION dollars! It’s estimated that the stage version has been seen by over 130 million people! The original production has toured or been produced in over 150 cities worldwide, in 13 languages! Its album sales exceed 40 million! It is without doubt the biggest success story in Musical Theater history!

And I find it as a show to be a big snooze. This piece, like Cats and Les Miserables, and many musicals from the 70s-80s, is almost entirely sung through. I think this approach flattens out the music. When everything is music, then no moment is special, or reserved for music. Music historically has represented high emotional moments in musical theatre works outside of opera. And opera has the great misfortune at times, because all must be sung, to force actors and writers to make into song utterly mundane moments. I really dislike it when people sing stuff like “the phone is ringing”, or “there’s someone at the door.” Musicals are special because they allow characters feeling strong emotion to elevate their expression up from dialogue into song. When everything is song, there’s no where for it to go when the stakes and emotions rise, except into ever-more bellicose music. And here, we have described both Les Miserable and Phantom. What’s more, the music doesn’t just grow increasingly bellicose in this show, but in my opinion, increasingly simple-minded. I don’t find the score either interesting or memorable, and the only place I’m moved by it is out of the theatre.

I saw this show in London, on the West End. I had seen a matinee that same day of Rent, which was sensational. I’d been told by a successful producer, who was at that time producing a show I co-authored, top skip Rent, but definitely see Phantom. I did both. The disappointment was Phantom. By 1999, when I saw this, it had already run in London for about 13 years. I found the show creaky, windy, over-stated, and irritating. That night, it played to a very small house, I’d estimate less than 1/3rd attendance, and the applause at the end of the show was, to put it politely, tepid. This, after seeing the matinee crowd at Rent love the show with passion and joy.

Throughout this site, I provide many suggestions as to how to improve each show through Direction and design. Phantom is too successful for much of that. And that is unfortunate, because it’s really a turkey dressed up like a pheasant.

I really don’t care for Phantom, I’m sorry. And by the way, look again at those ridiculously stellar numbers for Phantom! The longest-running musical of all time in the West End and Broadway! More money made than any other stage or screen entertainment, EVER! So what if I don’t care for it? It’s clearly the biggest hit of all time, to date.

MY RATING: (An average show – but better than most shows not represented in this book. A good match for certain groups.)

 

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The music is very rangy, operatic in the case of several roles. You’ll need strong and interesting voices for the leads. There’s a lot of music as the piece is virtually sung through, and it gets redundant. A good Musical Director will be looking everywhere for nuances in tempo and dynamics, anything to help isolate and differentiate pieces for each other. The music is simply not versatile enough to justify there being as much as there is in this show, and you will have to find ways to make it feel diverse. Cast a lot of fairly legit voices.

Christine – Soprano with some seriously high notes, E above high C!

Phantom – Lyric baritone with some fine high notes.

Raoul – Tenor, romantic, strong and clear voice.

Carlotta – Soprano, classical quality, with an optional high C, at least an A.

Mme. Giry – Mezzo-Soprano, with an Ab, optional D above high C.

Meg – Mezzo-Soprano

Piangi – Operatic Tenor with a clean, strong A#.

Buquet – Bass

Andre – Lyric Baritone

Firmin – Baritone

Don Attilo/Passarino – Lyric baritone with a high A.

Ensemble – Legit voices throughout with decent belts. Sopranos should have good high notes,

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

There isn’t much “dance” per say, but there is staged movement in the “opera” sequences and in “The Phantom Of The Opera”, “Magical Lasso”, “Notes…/Prima Donna”, “Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh”,“Masquerade/Why So Silent”, “Notes…/Twisted Every Way”, “Wandering Child…/Bravo, Monsieur”, “The Point Of No Return”, and “Down Once More…/Track Down The Murderer”. These are all story-driven, as everything in this plot-heavy piece is. A Choreographer will need to work closely with the Director to make this work, but this is no dance show.

There is ballet indicated within the on-stage operas, and this may provide a Choreographer their best opportunity to accomplish something. That said, I’d cut some of that deadly material. Top me, it seems the show is trying to be all things when this sort of dance gets introduced. I get that opera at that time integrated a dance company into performances – and I don’t care. The show is gigantic. And it’s long. It needs some shaving, and it really isn’t a dance show, though it has earmarks of spectacle.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Christine – Late teens-twenties, a Swedish Chorus girl, orphan, the daughter of a famed violinist. Must be a beautiful young woman for both men to fall for her. Born with a great voice, but apparently without the ability to get to it without help. A woman who feels things deeply, and whose heart is generous, but who is also very weak-willed and easily mesmerized. She is apparently reliant of a male father-figure to make decisions for her, and falls into a trance easily when such a person appears. Cast for voice, type, acting. Must really sing and have the look.

Phantom – Perhaps mid 30s -mid 40s. Very charismatic, capable, a magician and perhaps a hypnotist. But mad as a hatter with a deformed face (under a mask) and soul. Melodramatic much of the time, driven by inner demons to extreme words and acts, obsessive in love, and in life. Without the charisma, the audience will be laughing. Cast for presence, voice, type, acting, some movement. A star.

Raoul – Perhaps ten years Christine’s senior. A bit stuffy, square, uninspired when compared to the Phantom. An ardent, devoted romantic, in love genuinely with Christine. A bit softy, no match for the Phantom. Cast for voice, type, acting.

Carlotta – Mid 30s-50s, an opera star, a prima donna, easily made jealous and angry. Cast for voice, acting, type.

Mme. Giry – 40-60. The Ballet Master for the opera, and the woman who recommends Christine to replace Carlotta. Cast for type, acting, voice, movement.

Meg – Mme. Giry’s daughter. In the ballet chorus, Christine’s friend, about her age. Cast for acting, voice, type.

Piangi – 40-50s. Leading tenor ion the opera company, Carlotta’s husband. Probably like most operatic actors of his time, melodramatic, self-involved. Cast for voice, type, acting.

Buquet – 40-60, Doomed chief stagehand of the opera. A capable backstage functionary. Cast for acting, voice, type.

Andre – 40-65, Co-manager of the Opera. Cast for voice, acting, type.

Firmin – 45-70, Co-manager of the Opera. Cast for voice, acting, type.

Don Attilo/Passarino – 20-40. A singer in the opera. Cast for voice, acting, type.

Ensemble – All must sing, have a look for opera and the period.

SETS:

The proceedings all take place in, atop, and below the Paris Opera House, in 1861. (Except the prologue, in 1905.)

The prologue reveals the diminished opera house for the auction. The chandelier will need to be magically resurrected, and lifted above the stage and audience if possible. There will certainly be productions that can’t do this, and which may need to skip the prologue.

On a large stage, we see a rehearsal of an opera, “Hannibal”, which would be titanic. It’s in the Meyerbeer tradition of enormous spectacle disguised as opera, with elephants. This occupies the stage, which can look like a stage, circa 1861. Drapes (probably red velvet), lamps of the period visible, batons. Have all of this in front of the backstage set, perhaps around mid-stage.

Drop a flat or three-dimensional set near the front, for Christine’s dressing room. The mirror will need to work like a special effect (perhaps use a scrim), where she “sees herself”, and then the Phantom appears in her mirror. Lift this set again to reveal the labyrinth behind it. Famously, this has been done as candelabras on “water”, or a reflective period that in the dark resembles water. Set a corner of the stage s the Phantom’s rooms. (Or lower it in front of the labyrinth). Make sure he has his organ to play, and mannequins and chairs, preferably a lounge chair, he must sleep somewhere. Raise all of this, so we see “backstage”, and also the manager’s office.

Drop a flat mid way downstage for the performance of the opera, “Il muto.” Behind it set the roof of the opera house, and raise the opera flat (which should literally be a painted flat from the period), to reveal the rooftop.

Act II starts with a massive staircase, revealed with the raising of the asbestos or main drape. That will need to be moved aside or removed somehow to reveal backstage behind it, with the manager’s office. How do you do that one? Without a lot of money, set the front of the staircase at the edge of the stage left or right, just a few steps revealed. Then pull it all back, and have “backstage” already set behind it, unlit for the first scene.

Drop a drop mid-stage for the rehearsal of “Don Juan Triumphant”. The graveyard scene could be set behind the backdrop, but not all the way back, a three-dimensional set in front of a cut-away or something along those lines. Place a gravestone prominently. Remove this for backstage. (Always set at the back of the stage.) Drop the “Don Juan” drop again mid-stage. Pull it up to reveal the labyrinth and Phantom’s rooms.

So the sets are the stage of the opera house 1905; the stage for “Hannibal” (a drop); the backstage set with the manager’s office on the one side; Christina’s dressing room (a dropped set near the front of the stage); the labyrinth and Phantom’s rooms; a flat drop for “Il Muto”; the staircase; another drop mid-stage for “Don Juan”, and the rooftop set. That’s down to nine sets, three are drops, leaving six others. One would be a partial staircase. The backstage can largely use your actual backstage. That’s about as economically as this show can be set up. And all of it needs to look and feel like archaic Paris, with the appropriate flourishes.

COSTUMES:

There were some 200 period costumes designed and built for the original London production! Many of them are ornate, grand, theatrical. This is probably one of the two or three hardest shows to costume, and certainly among the most expensive.

There must be a notable difference between the very-theatrical and melodramatic costuming of the on-stage operas, and the backstage Masquerade on the stairs, and the nicely-dressed stars and company managers backstage, and the working men and women behind the scenes of the opera. If the on-stage opera costumes get applause and laughter, so much the better.

The Phantom wears a tux of sorts, old-fashioned for 1861 – and a famous mask you’ll need to probably build. It must easily stay on his face, by the way, and easily come off when you want it to.

The costumer has the additional problem that his actors must sing, and so must breathe. Costumes must give sufficiently to allow for this fact.

This is no job for a beginner. You’ll be building anything you can’t rent from a costume shop, most likely. You’ll probably need a crew to design and build this many costumes. If you’re building this many costumes, you’ll need to start early. Plan to work closely with the Director and Set Designer.

PROPS:

Is the mask a costume or prop? Up to you.

The Phantom’s ring. Make-up and other things found in Christine’s dressing room, in period. An oar or something like that for the boat in the labyrinth. The Phantom’s notes. Many other details. A rather large job, probably.

LIGHTING:

Very important to the show. You’ll need a vast, moody, versatile lighting plot capable of isolating attention. Shadows in this show are as important as light. Again, this is no job for a beginner. Get an experienced Lighting Designer! And plan on spending money for a lot of lamps, and you’ll need a very fine board.

MAKE-UP:

There are levels of make-up in the show. The least-removed from reality is the make-up for the opera performances. These should be over-the-top theatrical, from the period. Do some homework and get the look right.

Next down, the make-up of dressed up people at a party, at the start of Act II, and again, in period.

Next, actors and actresses dressed for rehearsal, always concerned for their looks.

At the “bottom” of this scale, real people – backstage workers, Raoul, the company managers.

The design work will need to be smart, as make-up changes during the show for many of the characters, based on this scale. And actors may need to do some changes on-stage in full view of the audience as a part of the backstage activity. You’ll want an experienced Make-Up Designer, again, no beginners.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Lighting Designer, Make-Up Designer, The Phantom, Christine

MY THOUGHTS:

It’s a big show, and can’t be reduced in size much and maintain its impact. Much of Phantom’s value is in the spectacle it provides. I don’t think the writing and composing in this show will hold up to close scrutiny, sorry, not at all. This show needs its spectacle to sock and awe the audience, to provide the highly supportive backdrop that makes this show the world-renowned entertainment it apparently is.

That’s all I have to say.  I can’t think anymore…the Phantom of the Opera is in my mind…damn that tune.