A Conversation With Groundbreaker Harold Prince On the Occasion of a New Phantom Milestone

By Harry Haun
25 Jan 2013

Hugh Panaro and Sierra Boggess in Phantom of the Opera.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Have you any idea why it has run so long?
HP: Sure. People like it. It's romantic. It's a real escape. They cry from the romance. It gets all the responses from an audience you want. It's a miracle of storytelling.

It's funny, you go to work on a show with all optimism, and sometimes they really work. When people say, "Did you think anything like this would happen?," my wife always says, "No. The first day of rehearsal was just a day like any other day. Hal went off to work with talented people." And that's exactly accurate.

You brought in Sierra Boggess for Hugh Panaro's Phantom for the anniversary weeks.
HP: Yes. Sierra's played Christine a lot — in Las Vegas, in London. She's one of the most talented girls I've ever worked with. She's the meaning of that corny word Star — she really is — she has all of it. She has a great voice, she's a wonderful actress —

She also did the sequel to Phantom, Loves Never Dies, didn't she?
HP: Yeah, and, basically, when the idea that she could play this particular celebration — the weeks before and after — it was just wonderful. I'm so happy she could do it.

Do you recall how Phantom all began?
HP: I do. I was at dinner one night at a place called Caprice, and I was sitting alone. I was in London working, and Andrew [Lloyd Webber] was sitting at another table with his then-wife who would be our original leading lady [Sarah Brightman]. He said, "Come over and have a coffee with us." So I had my coffee with them, and he said, "What would you think about a musical version of Phantom?" It's not likely that I would say, "Oh, hey, I'll do it," but I said, "Oh, hey, I'll do it." I think he and I both responded — as Cameron had — to the idea of a romantic musical.

Original Phantom, Michael Crawford

There have been — interesting enough, given the musical form — very, very few romantic musicals: South Pacific in 1949, She Loves Me in 1963, My Fair Lady in 1956, The King and I in 1951, Show Boat in 1927 — but, gee, very few. I think Phantom's feeding that [need].

I've seen Phantom several times, and it always looks in great shape. You must check it out pretty regularly.
HP: That's the point. Mutually, we all work on it. I go back and rehearse it about four times a year, but I go in to see it all the time. In fact, I'm seeing it tonight. The producers attend to the scenery and costumes and all production values all the time so we never ever let anything get shoddy. It always looks in mint condition. In fact, I think many of the costumes are more elaborate than they were originally.

Phantom on stage and Hannibal Lecter on screen must be the smallest lead roles of all time.
HP: It is a small role, but it's an intense role. He's only on stage about 30 minutes, but he has to play at a high level that's quite exhausting. From the moment you first hear him behind the mirror till the end of the show, he is way up there. He's sort of a little like Sweeney. It's a very, very draining assignment to be that intense.

Then, it's a good thing it's a small role, I guess.
HP: But it doesn't feel like a small role. You have to work towards it. The makeup takes quite a long time before the show. It can be depleting. It's not so much how much time you spend on a stage but what the quality of the time you spent on there is.