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The Phantom of the Opera: 10 things you didn't know about the hit Broadway musical
By
CBC Music

Published

August 10, 2017

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The Phantom of the Opera is one of the most successful musicals ever staged, and Broadway Across Canada is bringing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning blockbuster to major cities across the country throughout 2017.

Based on the French novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera is a gothic thriller and a twisted love story, but it also has a sweeping, romantic score and epic songs (“The Music of the Night,” “All I Ask of You”) that highlight the grandeur and mystery at the heart of the narrative.

The new touring production is one of the largest in North America, with a cast and orchestra of 52. Vancouver’s own Eva Tavares plays the lead role of Christine, the ingenue who goes from chorus girl to soloist when she becomes the deadly obsession and inspiration for the Phantom, a disfigured musical genius who resides in the maze of tunnels deep beneath the Paris Opera House.

Given its record-breaking Broadway run, and countless other touring productions, what could there possibly be to rediscover about Phantom in 2017? Well, turns out, there’s a lot.

Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Webber’s gothic musical extravaganza, as well as a couple of bonus bits of information about the Broadway classic that’s coming to a city near you.

1. Webber actually wrote The Phantom of the Opera, in part, as a vehicle for his then-wife, Sarah Brightman

In a 2016 interview with the Washington Post, theatre producer Cameron Mackintosh, who helmed this new, revamped touring production of The Phantom of the Opera described Brightman, the original Christine in London’s West End in 1986 and on Broadway in 1988, as a “phenomenal muse.”

2. The Phantom’s make-up and mask were an incredible ordeal — but very effective

Acclaimed musical theatre actor Michael Crawford originated the role of the Phantom in the West End and on Broadway. In order to play the character for the standard eight shows a week, he endured two hours in the make-up chair every day for application. At the end of the day, it was back to the chair, where it took two make-up artists another 20 minutes to loosen the three layers of foam latex from his face.

The make-up was created by Christopher Tucker, who had also created the make-up for the Elephant Man.

On days when Crawford had performed a matinee and an evening show, he opted to just eat liquid meals because of the mask.

To get an idea of just how huge Phantom was in London and in New York, consider this: according to a People magazine interview, Crawford had to shred the mask personally every night or it would be stolen from the garbage by rabid fans. The scarred flesh make-up he wore for the role was a pain to apply, but it was, apparently, gruesomely real.

From People magazine, 1988:

“Put your mask back on,” shuddered Britain’s Queen Mother when she viewed actor Michael Crawford backstage in his ghoulish guise in The Phantom of the Opera during the show’s London run. “It’s horrid,” gasped Princess Diana, who nevertheless has seen the show three times.

3. Theatre critics praised the show and lost their minds over that famous prop

New York theatre critic Patricia Morrisroe wrote, “The chandelier is dazzling and so is Phantom of the Opera.”

The new chandelier for the touring production comes with its own fact sheet: it weighs 1,500 pounds and features more than 6,000 crystals and 50 pyro elements. Spoiler alert: it drops at 10 feet per second. It’s based on the actual Paris Opera House chandelier, but it’s not an exact replica.

4. Phantom was such a huge hit at the box office when it debuted, it caused 1 theatre to change its curtain time

With record-breaking advance ticket sales for the Broadway opening, the person behind 42nd Street pushed his opening curtain to 8:15 p.m. rather than 8 p.m., so if people got shut out of Phantom, which they would, they could buy last-minute seats to his show.

5. Early Phantom rehearsals in London included animatronics

According to Broadway.com, Phantom originally featured animatronic rats, a white horse and real doves flying through the theatre, but “these ideas were scrapped before previews began.”

6. Even Beyoncé is 1 degree of separation from Phantom

Webber composed an extra 15 minutes of music for the 2004 film adaptation, which included the new song, “Learn to be Lonely,” sung by one of the film’s stars, Minnie Driver. The song was nominated for an Academy Award, and Beyoncé filled in for Driver at the 2005 Oscars, with Webber himself on piano.

7. Phantom has acquired a lot of stamps in its passport over the years

Worldwide, there have been more than 65,000 performances in 35 countries and 160 cities in 15 languages.

8. One uber fan changed her name in honour of The Phantom of the Opera

From the Independent,1996: “Take for example Miss Christine Daae herself. Not the fictional diva who inflames the Phantom to murder for her love in the swirling Gothic romance, but the 22-year-old PA from Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire who changed her name from Victoria Bohm by deed poll. Miss Daae of Bishop's Stortford has seen the show 41 times, once travelling to Canada to do so, and has spent around pounds 6,000 [sic] on tickets and merchandise. The show, she said yesterday, ‘totally took my breath away. I felt completely carried away to another world, caught up in the hypnotic power he has over Christine.’"

9. Webber’s Phantom of the Opera wasn’t actually the first stage musical version of Phantom

Ken Hill wrote the first stage musical version of The Phantom of the Opera in 1976. Webber saw it when Hill revived the show in 1984, and was so inspired, he asked Hill to collaborate with him on a lavish, grand-scale version in London’s West End. The two had worked together previously on a revival of Webber’s own Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Ultimately, Webber went ahead and did his own version of Phantom with lyricist Charles Hart and it became one of the biggest blockbuster musicals of all time.

Both ended up running in London at the same time in 1991, prompting lots of media attention, like the archival clip below, about duelling Phantoms.

10. Phantom of the Opera is a blockbuster and record-breaker

It made the Guinness World Records book in 2012.

And it’s made some major bucks. In the summer of 2014, Phantom became the first stage production to reach worldwide grosses of $6 billion.

Bonus fact: Phantom is getting the Muppets treatment, in book form, later this year!

Broadway Across Canada’s The Phantom of the Opera 2017 tour information:

Edmonton: July 26-Aug. 6
Calgary: Aug. 9-20
Winnipeg: Aug. 23-Sept. 3
Montreal: Oct. 4-15
Ottawa: Oct. 18-29

This is paid content produced by or on behalf of the Phantom of the Opera.