The premiere of “The Phantom of the Opera” by Andrew Lloyd Webber was in October 1986 starring Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, quickly becoming a phenomenal global success, the longest running show in Broadway history. Box office revenues are more than any film, including "Titanic" and "Star Wars,” with the musical staged in 27 countries and seen by 130 million people.
Now back at The Playhouse, Edinburgh, this is a fresh and exciting reinterpretation with an innovative set design, superb choreography and artistic direction. Through well paced intimate scenes, the dramatic narrative centres on the original Gothic horror story.
First published in French as a serialised novel in 1909, " Le Fantôme de l'Opéra” by Gaston Leroux is a triangular love story of jealousy and revenge between a young singer Christine Daaé, her childhood friend Raoul, and The Phantom, a ghostly figure who haunts the Opera Populaire in Paris.
The prologue is set at an Auction house in 1911, where several lots of theatre props are being sold, including a mechanical monkey music box which is purchased by a gentleman, the Vicompte de Chagny. Then the dust sheets of a crumbling old chandelier are removed, the lights illuminated once more as we are taken back in time to the Opera House a decade earlier.
The stage is transformed with a gilded proscenium arch, thick drapes, Box seats and gas lamps, as the opera company is rehearsing. In the wings amidst soft lighting we glimpse the corps de ballet recreating a quiet Degas pose, a charming scene to capture period, place and the art of performance.
The opera house is said to be haunted by a strange figure who demands his own reserved private Box. Threatening letters are received by the managers while strange accidents with falling scenery scare the ensemble.
When Carlotta, the Prima Donna refuses to perform, Christine, a chorus singer who knows the role well, steps in to take over. An overnight sensation, the audience marvel at her heavenly voice. When her friend Raoul, Viscompte de Chagny arrives, she explains that she has been taught to sing by an invisible Angel of Music but he dismisses her dreams as fantasy.
The Phantom is captivated by Christine, his muse, and this strange man in a white mask is revealed in her dressing room mirror, serenading her to follow him. The stage revolves to reveal a giant circular tower with a steep spiral staircase leading down to his secret subterranean lair beneath the theatre.
West End and Broadway stars John Owen-Jones, Katie Hall and Simon Bailey as the Phantom, Christine and Raoul, are all fine singers and actors with strong characterisation to draw us into this mysterious tale of obsession and betrayal.
Lloyd Webber’s score is extraordinary in its musical diversity featuring arias from fictional "operas" Hannibal and Il Muto, while Firmin and Andre are an amusing double act of bumbling theatre managers – comically performed by Andy Hockley and Simon Green - conversing in a sequence of light hearted Gilbert and Sullivan-style lyrics.
And at its emotional heart are the romantic duets between Christine, Raoul and the Phantom, with such memorable ballads - Music of the Night, Think of Me and All I ask of You.
Twenty six years on, The Phantom of the Opera has been given a magnificent, magical revival, a truly theatrical new production, richly atmospheric in mood, music and dramatic story telling.
20 September to 20 October, 2012