THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - Derrick Davis and Emma Grimsley-photo Matthew Murphy

Cameron Mackintosh on the bathtub birth of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

 The famous chandelier has been made even more spectacular for new North American production

By Cameron Mackintosh
It’s been 35 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 found a copy of the novel by Gaston Leroux, which was out of print, and decided that we preferred that original storyline.

‘The love triangle is the crucial difference between our musical, the original novel and other versions of the story.’ – Cameron Mackintosh

To my surprise, Andrew’s initial idea for the score was to use famous classical works and write only the incidental music himself. Thanks to the encouragement of the first director we met with to discuss the project, Jim Sharman (original director of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Show) — in Kyoto, Japan, of all places — Andrew later decided to write an entirely original score that was undoubtedly also inspired by wife Sarah Brightman’s extraordinary vocal range. However, a superlative score was not Andrew’s only major contribution to the success of Phantom; his instinct to make the emotional center of the story a love triangle between the Phantom, Christine and Raoul is the crucial difference between our musical, the original novel and other versions of the story.

cameron-mackintosh Phantom of the Opera

The ‘New York Times’ has called Cameron Mackintosh ‘the most successful, influential and powerful theatrical producer in the world.’ Photo:

The original production went into rehearsal in London on August 18, 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. It immediately became one of London’s greatest musical hits.

Eighteen months later, our trio of original stars — Michael Crawford, Sarah Brightman and Steve Barton — opened to rapturous applause on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre. The production is still playing there and it reigns as the longest-running musical in Broadway’s history.

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 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 were interested in taking over the baton from Maria. 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 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.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - Derrick Davis and Emma Grimsley-photo Matthew Murphy

Derrick Davis and Emma Grimsley. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Putting together the rest of the new creative team for this Phantom was a daunting but invigorating task. 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. 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 United Kingdom in 2012, and was immediately embraced by both audiences and critics alike, breaking records throughout its sellout British tour. It has proved a worthy complement to the soaring achievement of Hal Prince and Gillian Lynne’s brilliant original, and at the same time showing afresh how masterful and durable the music and libretto of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart’s legendary creation is. 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.

For nearly 50 years, Cameron Mackintosh has been producing more musicals than anyone else in history, including the three longest-running musicals of all time, ‘Les Misérables,’ ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Cats,’ which are still running successfully across the world.

The Phantom of the OperaThe Phantom of the Opera: Ticket information

Cameron Macintosh’s spectacular new production returns to Denver as part of its North American Tour. Critics are raving that this breathtaking production is “bigger and better than ever before” and features a brilliant new scenic design by Paul Brown, Tony Award®-winning original costume design by Maria Björnson, lighting design by Tony Award®-winner Paule Constable, new choreography by Scott Ambler, and new staging by director Laurence Connor. The production, overseen by Matthew Bourne and Cameron Mackintosh, boasts many exciting special effects including the show’s legendary chandelier. The beloved story and thrilling score – with songs like “Music of the Night,” “All I Ask Of You,” and “Masquerade” – will be performed by a cast and orchestra of 52, making this Phantom one of the largest productions now on tour.

  • Producer: Cameron Mackintosh
  • Written by: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe; adapted from the novel by Gaston Leroux
  • Direct by: Laurence Connor
  • When: November 6-17
  • Where: Buell Theatre
  • Accessible Performance: Saturday, November 16 at 2 p.m.
  • Tickets: Available by calling 303-893-4100, in person in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex at 14th and Curtis streets or, online by clicking here:
  • The Phantom of Opera official web site

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Photo gallery:

Photos by Alastair Nuir.