“The Phantom of the Opera” is considered to be one of the most successful musicals of all time. The music is composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, while Charles Hart crafted the lyrics. The musical is based on Gaston Leroux’s French novel from 1910 that shares the same title.
The central storyline narrates the tale of Christine Daaé, a gorgeous soprano who gets entangled in the fixation of a scarred and mysterious intellectual known as the Phantom. It premiered in 1986 at the West End Theatre in London. The music is inspired partly by Ken Hill’s musical interpretation of the same novel and maintains the structure and form of a traditional musical throughout.
History & Awards
In 1984, Lloyd Webber was aiming to craft a romantic piece and stumbled upon a second-hand copy of Gaston Leroux’s original book. This supplied the initial inspiration to create a modern version. Jim Steinman was first approached but declined due to other commitments. Alan Jay Lerner was next in line, but he had to withdraw owing to bad health. Finally, Richard Stilgoe crafted most of the original lyrics, which was later re-written by Charles Hart.
In 1986, it won the Olivier Award award. The recording of the original London cast was later certified as “4× Platinum” in the USA, selling almost 5 million copies worldwide. In 1988, it premiered in Broadway and won the Tony Award for “best musical.” It has been certified “3× Platinum” and “2× Platinum” in the UK and Canada, respectively. It is also the longest-running Broadway show in history.
In 1905, old theatrical memorabilia are being auctioned off at the Opera Populaire in Paris, France. Vicomte Raoul de Chagny is among the interested and acquires a “papier-mâché” music box he is emotionally attached to. Next, the auctioneer offers a mystifying shattered chandelier. He explains its connection to an unsolved affair- the mystery of the “Phantom of the Opera.” As the covering of the chandelier is removed, it glimmers to life, ascending onto the ceiling of the opera. The auditorium’s aura is finally restored.
In 1881, the rehearsals of Hannibal, a new production takes place in Paris. The cast learns that André and Firmin, the new owners are acquiring the “Paris Opéra House.” During the rehearsals, Carlotta, the lead soprano luckily avoids a backdrop that inexplicably and suddenly falls, missing her by inches. The chorus girls let out an anxious whisper, “The Phantom of the Opera is here!.” The managers downplay the incident to no avail. Carlotta quits, insisting that the same incident has been repeating for the past 3 years. However, Madame Giry, the ballet head, comes to the rescue of the owners. She informs them about Christine Daaé; an orphaned chorus girl is adept at playing Carlotta’s role. The managers reluctantly agreed to audition her, as the alternative being canceling a sold-out event. Christine passed the test with flying colors. In the evening, as Christine performed the Aria, Viscount Raoul de Chagny recognizes her as his childhood playmate and friend. The Aria “Think of Me” is played in the background.
After her successful debut, Christine chats with her friend Meg about her mysterious music teacher. She acknowledges that she only knows an “Angel of Music” who only appears in her dreams and sings to her. The song “Angel of Music” accompanies the scene. Later Raoul pays her a visit - the two reminisce about the stories they heard in their childhood about the Angel. Christine states that she learned singing “Little Lotte” from the Angel. As Raoul leaves to fetch his hat, a jealous Phantom makes himself heard. He appears in front of her as a partially masked entity, as the song “The Mirror/Angel of Music” plays in the background. Christine is immediately drawn to him, believing him to be an entity sent by her father. The Phantom leads her to his secret lair on a boat as the song “The Phantom of the Opera” is performed. The Phantom then serenades Christine with his music. He subsequently reveals a mirror where Christine sees herself wearing a wedding dress. When her reflection gestures at her, Christine faints in shock. The Phantom tucks her tenderly into a bed while singing “The Music of the Night.”
Christine wakes up while the Phantom is composing. She recognizes the sound of the “music box” from her childhood and expresses her feelings through the Aria “I Remember.” She cannot withhold her curiosity and unmasks him from behind, but runs away in fear after watching his disfigured face. The Phantom ruefully sings “Stranger Than You Dreamt It,” yearning to be loved. Christine empathizes with him and returns his mask, as the Phantom subsequently escorts her to the mainland.
In the next scene, Joseph Buquet, the chief stagehand of the Opera shares the story of the “Opéra Ghost” with the chorus girls. Madame Giry intervenes, reminding everyone that those speaking ill will answer to the Phantom's wrath, as the song “Magical Lasso” is performed. In the manager’s office, a new drama unfolds. Raoul accuses them of sabotaging his relationship with Christine. Carlotta returns, demanding an explanation about a letter that states her “time at the Opéra is numbered.” In the chaos, Madame Giry enters and shares the Phantom’s demands - Carlotta must be replaced by Christine as the lead in the new opera, and box 5 should be left empty for him. The managers will face a calamity beyond comprehension if they refuse. The song “Notes” accompanies this scene. However, the managers decide otherwise, pledging to make Carlotta the star and offering Christine a silent role instead.
At the premiere of the new opera “Il Muto,” the Phantom wrecks havoc. During the performance, he gets furious at the fact that Box 5 was not kept empty, and reduces Carlotta’s voice to that of a toad’s. As the managers rush onstage to defuse the chaos, announcing that Christine will be the star, the corpse of Joseph Buquet is suddenly dropped from the rafters. Ironically, it is hanging from the “Magical Lasso.” The Phantom’s menacing laugh rings through the auditorium, as mayhem breaks out. The ensemble performance of “Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh” plays in the background.
In the chaos, Raoul and Christine reunite. Christine sings “Why Have You Brought Me Here?/Raoul, I've Been There,” describing her experience with the Phantom. Raoul promises to protect her, as the couple reciprocates through the duet “All I Ask of You.” However, heartbroken Phantom overhears them and angrily vows revenge, singing a reprised version of “All I Ask of You.”
It takes place after six months at a “masquerade ball” hosted by the Opera. Raoul and Christine are now engaged. The Phantom has not been sighted since the chandelier debacle. However, he suddenly appears at the ball, posing as “Red Death.” He demands that Christine must be lead in a new opera he has written, titled “Don Juan Triumphant,” and vows retribution if his demands are ignored. He further notices an engagement ring on Christine and pulls it away angrily before vanishing, as “Masquerade” plays in the background.
Next, Raoul confronts Madame Giry for information about the Phantom. She states the Phantom is, in fact, a brilliant composer, magician, architect, and scholar. He was born with a deformed face, for which he was feared and ostracized by society. He was used as an “exhibition” in a fair, from which he eventually escaped and took asylum beneath the Opera. Raoul plans to trap the Phantom and tries to convince Christine to help lure him, who refuses by rendering “Notes/Twisted Every Way.” The Opera managers reluctantly agree to the Phantom’s demand.
Christine loves Raoul but admires the Phantom too. So, she visits her father’s grave, singing “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” yearning for guidance. The Phantom emerges on top of the mausoleum as the Angel of Music, belting out “Wandering Child” and influencing Christine. However, Raoul arrives to save the day. The Phantom hurls “fireballs” at him, taunting him until Christine begs Raoul to rescue her. A furious Phantom vows vengeance. Flames engulf the mausoleum as the duet “Bravo, Monsieur” is performed.
Meanwhile, “Don Juan Triumphant” is organized, albeit with armed policemen, to ensure safety. Piangi and Christine are the lead. However, Christine suddenly realizes that the Phantom has replaced Piangi as she recognizes his voice during the song “Don Juan Triumphant.” Another song, “The Point of No Return” evokes the inherent tension. The Phantom mimic’s Raoul’s voice and forces a ring onto Christine’s finger. She rights back and rips his mask off, revealing his disfigured face to a shocked audience. The Phantom then drags Christine to his Lair, leaving the garroted corpse of Piangi backstage. The whole opera plunges into disarray, as the angry crowd now pines for the Phantom’s blood. Madame Giry reveals the way to the Phantom’s lair to raoul, but warns him to watch out for his “Magical Lasso.” The conversation is accompanied by the songs “Down Once More/Track Down This Murderer.”
In the lair, the Phantom has forced Christine to wear a wedding dress. Raoul arrives and begs the Phantom to spare his love. However, the Phantom refuses, explaining how the world has always hated him and entraps Raoul in his “Punjab Lasso” (Magical Lasso). The Phantom then offers Christine an ultimatum through the reprise version of the song “The Point of No Return” - if she refuses to be with him, Raoul dies. As the two men fight, Christine suddenly has an epiphany about the Phantom’s plight. She kisses him, offering compassion for the first time. The Phantom is overwhelmed with emotion and realizes he cannot force Christine to love him and releases Raoul. He makes the couple swear to keep his location secret and collapses in sorrow. When Christine returns him the ring, he confesses his love for her, before tearfully watching her leave.
The angry mob reaches nearby, a shattered Phantom climbs on his throne, wearing the cloak. Meg, Christine’s friend, is the first person to discover the lair. She locates the throne and tugs at the Phantom’s cloak out of curiosity. However, to her amazement, only the mask remains. She lifts it into the light, fascinated at the spectacle. The “Finale” is performed as the curtain falls.
The music in “The Phantom of the Opera” is operatic, encompassing rapidly above the usual level. The characters are a perfect blend of mystique and timelessness. There’s an inherent duology at play here - the Phantom is considered as an “angel of music,” but he resembles the devil. Lloyd Webber has successfully infused the Phantom inside the audience’s mind - which is a tremendous achievement considering the composer’s ability to make a couple of songs go the extra mile. In this musical, such songs are few, but they are absolute crackers.
The representation of the songs will also tickle your funny bones, which is an often overlooked fact. There are quite a few humping, interchangeable chords. The Phantom’s music evokes one of the most common human emotions -a desperate longing for societal acceptance. The music can also be termed generic at the most, the songs can easily be redistributed and rearranged among the characters involved, and they would fit in quite effortlessly. There is an attempt at pushing the intellectual chords through the noisy septet “Prima Donna,” but it’s nothing exceptional.
Performances & Adaptations
“The Phantom of the Opera” has also been translated into various languages and has been produced in more than 28 countries spanning 6 continents.
- In 1988, it premiered in Austria at the “Theater an der Wien,” albeit in German.
- In 1989, it first premiered in Sweden, while another recent performance was held in 2016.
- In August 1993, a production of the musical was arranged in Scheveningen, Netherlands.
- In 1996, it was featured in the Animaniacs episode titled “Dot's Entertainment” as a part of Lloyd Webber’s musicals.
- In 2003, the Madách Theatre in Budapest arranged the production of the “The Phantom of the Opera.”
- In 2004, a movie with the same title starring Gerard Butler, Patrick Wilson, Minnie Driver, and Emmy Rossum was directed by Joel Schumacher.
- In 2009, it debuted in Argentina, running at the “Teatro Opera” in Buenos Aires.
- In 2012, the 10,000th performance was held on Broadway.
- Between 2013 and 2014, the “Shanghai Grand Theatre” hosted 97 performances in Shanghai, China.
- In 2014, Really Useful Group and Stage Entertainment collaborated for the Moscow tour in Russia.
- In 2016, the 30th anniversary was arranged and included a special appearance from the original 1986 cast.
- The musical also got featured in the popular sitcom Family Guy, in an episode titled “Deep Throats.”
- The song “Masquerade” from the musical was also used in an episode of the Netflix series “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” in 2019.
- In 2019, a World Tour was started in February 2019 at the “Theatre at Solaire” in Manila and went on until the 6th of April.
A Safe Bet
Lloyd Webber has generally played it safe here. He didn’t musically explore the gray shades of his protagonist but chose a more commercially viable option - a mere fabrication of romantic derangement. His Phantom is quite unhinged, manipulating and killing off people at ease. But he still offers that underdog vibe the audience absolutely adore, one that tempts to empathize with his sufferings. However, the overall package does shine through, which makes “The Phantom of the Opera” one of the most popular musicals of all time.
The musical is also a perfect portrayal of the era it was crafted – the power ballads and dry ice. It may feel artificial at some point, but once the tunes enter the head, they are hard to eradicate - somewhat of a guilty pleasure. The music will raise the spirits like a juggernaut, and not in a subtle way. “The Phantom of the Opera” has remained wonderfully crazy.
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