(PCM) The Phantom of the Opera did not get its start on Broadway. The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical opened On The West End London, at Her Majesty’s Theatre on October 9, 1986. The West End is London’s equivalent to New York City’s Broadway.
The Phantom however has a much longer history than that. The Phantom of the Opera was a French novel by Gaston Leroux and was published in 1910 soon drawing a worldwide audience.
Gaston’s Phantom is one of the 20th century’s favorite monsters. He is in the league of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Werewolf and The Creature from the Black Lagoon and the creature’s popularity has gone down in popularity in the wake of, the creation of different comic book characters such as Swamp Thing.
The Phantom is different from all the other monsters sighted above as he was not born of science or the supernatural, the Phantom was born deformed.
That is the key to popularity of The Phantom of The Opera. The Phantom has a name, Eric, and he is a musical genius. His talent far surpasses anyone else of his time, but his looks keep him away and isolated from human contact which ultimately drives him insane. He may be a kidnapper and a murderer, but there is something about Eric that makes us feel compassion for him.
The Phantom is different in another way too. He has The Paris Opera House. The Paris Opera House opened on the January 5, 1875, but the building was actually begun in 1861. It took almost 14 years for the building to be completed. Much of the delay was caused by France’s continual change of government. For awhile, before the opera house was completed, it was used as munitions warehouse.
But in 1875 it finally opened. The Paris Opera House is still the biggest opera house in the word. It does not, however, have the most seats, that honor goes to more modern theaters. The Opera House itself was not just a place to hear great music, but also a place to be seen and a piece of artwork all on its own.
The Opera house contains galleries, sweeping staircases, rooms big enough to hold balls and other forms of entertainment, as well as its central attraction of The Grand Staircase. Gaston Laroux spent may hours searching out the corners of the famous theatre while writing his novel
The Opera House also has a huge amount of space backstage. When the building was first begun it was found that the land covered an underground stream. This was drained but also incorporated in the opera house. A lake was created deep under the stage and the water used to run the hydraulic lifts on stage. There was a stable able to care for 20 horses and many dressing rooms and make up rooms. In many ways the Paris Opera House is a dream come true for both the audience and the performers.
It was here that Gaston Leroux set his novel. In many ways the Paris Opera House is as much a character in the story as the people themselves.
In brief The Phantom of The Opera is a story of a deformed man who reigns over the opera house. He becomes fascinated with a young singer named Christine and begins to teach her how to sing. In his own way he falls in love with her and brings her to his home deep in theater on the lake. Christine, at first, thinks her teacher is an angel but comes to find out that it is just the opposite.
Christine, in the mean time, falls in love with a young nobleman named Raul. The two decide to run off together but the phantom knows of their plans and cuts the chandelier over the audience in retaliation, killing many. The Phantom then kidnaps Christine and takes her to his lair where she kisses his deformed face and he lets her go. The Phantom leaves the Opera House never to be seen again and Raul finds Christine.
The Phantom would go through different film adaptation of the story before it would make it to Broadway. The first was the silent film version starring Lon Chaney appearring in 1925. Webber would rely heavily on this version for his musical.
Another film version many people are familiar with is the 1943 adaptation starring Claude Rains. This version however basically shreds Leroux’s novel and is more a vehicle for Nelson Eddy to make a comeback in. It is not considered a great film, but it is the one many have grown up with. There has been others as well most of which are of even less quality.
The Phantom became great again with the musical of 1986. When the show opened in London it starred Michael Crawford as The Phantom and Sarah Brightman as Christine. They would bring their performances to New York City when The Phantom of the Opera opened on January 26, 1988 at the Majestic Theater. The show has never closed and is currently the longest running show on Broadway.
A film version of the musical was released in 2004.