Written by Kyle SlagleyTwenty-six years ago today, in London’s West End, Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman took the stage for the first time in what would become one of the most iconic musicals of all time. This musical, which would receive pop-culture nods by everything from SpongeBob to R. L. Stine, would eventually go on to win seven Tony Awards and three Laurence Olivier Awards.
I am of course referring to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, with Crawford playing Erik the Phantom and Brightman as Christine. Phantom has since become the longest-running Broadway show in history, celebrating its 10,275th performance tonight at the Majestic Theatre, and is the third-longest-running show in London.
As a performer and theater fan, Phantom holds a special place in my heart, being one of the musicals that first drew me into the Broadway world. In fact I can’t help but be jealous of friends performing to sold-out crowds at my alma mater, the University of Kentucky, in UK Opera Theatre’s production.
Over the years there have been a number of stage and film renditions of the show, all based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, originally published in French as Le Fantôme de L’Opera in 1910. While the book has been wholly overshadowed by the theater and film renditions of the story, some maintain that the original novel accents underlying character traits lost in translation and that the book is well worth the time.
I recently discovered a copy of the original silent version of the film from 1925 with Lon Chaney as the Phantom and Mary Philbin as Christine and found myself completely entranced by it. It’s amazing how a film made nearly 100 years ago can still be so amazingly eerie; it captured me in ways that modern horror flicks simply cannot do.
Other film adaptations were made in later years, with Claude Rains playing the Phantom in the 1943 version and Herbert Lom in 1962. The most recent film adaptation was released in 2004, this time starring Gerard Butler as the reclusive Phantom.
Although both the 1943 and 1962 versions landed mostly positive reviews, critics decried the 2004 film as boring and flat. Personally, I didn’t think it was all that bad, certainly not as horrendous as some. The sheer lavishness of the sets and the costumes were enough to keep me entertained — and when played in Blu-Ray HD, the aesthetics are more impressive than when I saw it in theaters.
The Original Broadway Cast soundtrack remains my favorite recording and has sold over five million copies worldwide — four million in the U.S. alone. In October of last year, Lloyd Webber and producer Cameron Mackintosh assembled a star cast at the Royal Albert Hall for the 25th anniversary production. That production ran for two nights only but was recorded and later released on CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray.
Sir Andrew has tacked his name onto some of the biggest musicals Broadway and London have ever seen, and I can attest that they are as much fun to perform as they are to watch. That said, Phantom may have been the show that defined his legacy, and I for one have never heard pipe organs the same way.