After 25 Years, Phantom Still Astounds; Gala Anniversary Performance Filled With Surprises

By Adam Hetrick
27 Jan 2013

Sarah Brightman
Photo by Monica Simoes

The gala performance was a reminder of Prince's place as a master director. His lengthy career may be studded with bolder, more groundbreaking ventures, but Phantom's long run has given theatre lovers and professionals the opportunity to see his work repeatedly. His direction not only stands the test of time, but remains fresh, vibrant and arresting to this day.

Prince's keen eye for creating vivid scenes —through the juxtaposition of movement and tableaux, plus seamless transitions — famously instills Phantom with a cinematic quality. In his work with choreographer Gillian Lynne, Prince also ensures that larger group scenes teem with on-stage life.

Lynne's work also received applause early in Act Two as the company gathered for the final verse of "Masquerade" on the grand staircase of the opera house. Less than an hour later, as the musical reached its conclusion and the Phantom slipped into the night, cheers and applause began as young ballerina Meg Giry approached the throne to hold the iconic half-mask in her hands for Prince's final image.

Following the company bows, director Prince and Phantom producer Cameron Mackintosh took the stage to speak about their love for the musical and the numerous people who brought the tale to life. Prince noted that the production the audience had just witnessed was the same that London audiences saw at the first preview in London 26 years ago. The show didn't change.

Harold Prince
photo by Monica Simoes

Late costume designer Maria Bjornson, who created the world in which the Phantom is set, was fondly remembered by Prince. The director recalled that he worked with Bjornson for more than a year in pre-production on the musical. After many months, Prince realized they hadn't set any costumes, to which Bjornson replied that he shouldn't worry – she designed 50 per day. Prince pointed out that Phantom's costumes, which where displayed on the cast across the Majestic Stage last evening, were designed by Bjornson in roughly two weeks' time.

Lloyd Webber, who was not present due to a recent back surgery, appeared in a post-show video in which he was reunited with his original Christine, and his former wife, Sarah Brightman. Lloyd Webber said in the warm and candid video that this was the first time he and Brightman sat down together for an interview since their marriage. He famously wrote the role of Christine for Brightman.

Following the brief video, Mackintosh welcomed Brightman to the stage. The British soprano, who was greeted with loud cheers, spoke fondly of her experience in Phantom and her love for returning to see new actors inhabit roles and bring their own "sense of wonderment" to the production. (For the record, Brightman's dress was by Lanvin, her shoes by Jimmy Choo and her tiara by Tiffany.)