Sarah Brightman Resurrects Her 'Phantom' Career

Sarah Brightman Resurrects Her 'Phantom' Career Until three years ago, many had written the career of Sarah Brightman off. She had been pushed into the American show business arena by her very successful husband, caused a few headlines and then disappeared.
Sarah Brightman.
Sarah Brightman.

Until three years ago, many had written the career of Sarah Brightman off. She had been pushed into the American show business arena by her very successful husband, caused a few headlines and then disappeared.

However, during that cycle, Brightman also found a legion of fans who never forgot her. And she didn't disappear but, in fact, persisted. Now, with a handful of top-rated recordings, albums, TV specials and an international concert tour, Brightman has proved even her detractors wrong. Proving that success is the best revenge, and Brightman, now 38, has made a comeback. Her lyric soprano voice is selling everything from opera classics, to classical crossover and pop. She's had successful overseas specials broadcast on PBS. Her career was revitalized with the soaring, multi-lingual duet with rising operatic star Andrea Bocelli on "Time To Say Goodbye," an international chart-topper in the classical crossover arena. Another hit duet, with Jose Carreas, "Amigos Para Siempre (Friends for Life)," proved equally successful.

Brightman was back in the Northeast Oct. 5 and 6 for a return engagement, and two more sold-out concerts, at Newark's NJPAC. The tour has been SRO in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Seattle, Denver and Chicago.

Brightman wasn't discovered by her famous ex, Andrew Lloyd Webber (they divorced in 1990). She had been acting, singing and dancing since age 13, when she was cast in the chorus of Cats on the West End. It was there she caught the eye of Lloyd Webber, who began crafting musical pieces for her. She created quite a stir when cast as Christine in the West End premiere of The Phantom of the Opera and rancorous headlines here when Lloyd Webber cast her to repeat her role on Broadway. Actors Equity went ballistic and Brightman became a cause celebre as the union tried to prevent her from repeating her performance on the grounds that she wasn't a star, but merely Mrs. Lloyd Webber. In the end, Lloyd Webber wielded his clout and she opened the musical in 1988 at the Majestic Theatre.

Her performance was just as "mesmerizing" here as it was there, but Brightman was coolly received and denied a Tony Award nomination as Best Actress in a Musical. Jump forward to 1991 and the waning days on Broadway of Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love, when it was thought that Brightman could induce box office. She didn't and the show closed. Brightman says that eye-opening experience on Broadway, where only three years earlier she had received thunderous applause and standing ovations, was a defining turning point. She had to emerge from the shadow of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

"Andrew's music is a part of my positive past," says Brightman. " I don't have a problem doing it. We have remained friends and I've participated in tributes to him and specials celebrating his work."

She had earlier chart successes in England with two Phantom tunes, "Wish You Were Somehow Here Again" and "All I Ask of You" and her rendition of "Pie Jesu" (with Paul Miles) from Lloyd Webber's Requiem. "Interestingly, overseas," claims Brightman, "audiences aren't interested in [the Lloyd Webber] part of my life, but the English and Americans have hung on."

Brightman didn't stand still and wait for something to happen. She decided she had to make it happen. "In the past, others created my work. My goal was to create it myself, from my own thoughts and instincts. I do what I want to do and don't set rules for myself. It's a challenge but it's exciting."

After "Goodbye," another hit from that album was her reinterpretation of Queen's "Who Wants To Live Forever," which opened a whole new crossover audience to Brightman. On record and in concert, she is completely comfortable with a variety of music from pop/rock and show/film tunes to quasi-classical and classical.

"Pop's instinctive and natural to me," she notes. "I grew up in the '60s, so I'm at home with rock. There was such a sense of freedom in music then, with a lot of experimenting -- mixing classical and pop." And, lest we have forgotten, she was lead vocalist of the 70s pop group Hot Gossip and had hits.

"The classics came later," adds Brightman, "but never affected my vocal phrasing. I didn't want to lose my natural rhythm for pop."

Her recent CD, "Eden" (EMI-Angel Records), is eclectic "and very much my personality. I didn't say let's mix classical with rock. It doesn't work like that. I like all kinds of music, and I wanted a variety."

The album, on which she out-Enyas Enya (the Irish New Age pop phenomenon), contains her debut as a songwriter, "In Paradisum," which she co-wrote with album producer Frank Peterson, and "So Many Things," a Celtic standard for which she adapted the lyrics.

Her classical training in church choirs, London's Royal College of Music and Julliard, plus recent vocal study in Italy, has come in handy as Brightman easily can sing in English, Spanish, Italian and French. On "Eden," she slyly makes "My Heart Will Go On," the theme from Titanic, her own by covering it in Italian.

Brightman's "One Night in Eden" tour continues through Oct. 17 with stops next in Boston (Oct. 8), State College, PA (Oct. 10), Washington (Oct. 12) and on into NC and FL, closing in Miami (Oct. 17). And how different is her live show from her recordings? "It's a combination of the real me. I do songs I'm associated with, but there's contemporary pop and rock elements. I took some risks. People have been surprised because I wanted to do something different."

She succeeded. There is a large orchestra and chorus, but also dancers. And, borrowing from the rock concert concept, there's a variety of lighting and visual effects. In another department, Brightman borrows from pop diva Diana Ross in that she changes costumes about a dozen times. Brightman loves what she's accomplishing and seems to have lost interest in returning to theatre. "Never say never," she says. "It would have to be something really interesting and fresh. I couldn't tell you what's happening in theatre. I don't even buy cast albums anymore. In creating this new niche, I feel it's an extension of my stage work."