The Phantom at 25: Director Harold Prince Reflects on Creating the World of "The Music of the Night"

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30 Sep 2011

Harold Prince
Harold Prince
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Harold Prince, the multiple Tony Award-winning director of The Phantom of the Opera, reflects on the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Charles Hart-Richard Stilgoe mega-hit as it celebrates its 25th anniversary in London.


The 25th anniversary of the first performance of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Phantom of the Opera quietly came and went Sept. 27 at Her Majesty's Theatre in London. Since its unmasking in London in 1986, the romantic Victorian-set show about a deformed musical genius and his soprano obsession has been seen across the globe and will, in January 2012, enjoy its 24th anniversary at Broadway's Majestic Theatre.

But before then, the producer Cameron Mackintosh is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the show's premiere with a London concert at Royal Albert Hall Oct. 1-2; it will be simulcast worldwide. Although acclaimed Tony Award-laden director Harold Prince is not the director of the starry concert, staff writer Adam Hetrick checked in with him on the occasion of his production's milestone. Prince found time to squeeze in an interview while planning his latest show, Prince of Broadway, a retrospective of his decades-long career on Broadway as a director and producer.

The man who has been giving his Phantom companies "notes of the most amiable nature" for over two decades is renowned for his 21 Tony Awards (including one for direction of The Phantom of the Opera) — and a list of collaborators that includes Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins and George Abbott. After all of this, the 83-year-old Prince is still humble when speaking of Phantom's extraordinary success (is it gauche of us to mention an international box office gross of a mere $5.6 billion?).

Phantom was the first show I saw on Broadway. I went back this summer and was just as mesmerized as I was then. It's in pristine shape almost  25 years later.
Harold Prince: Thank you. It's swell. Who would dream? Do you know it's going to run 25 years? Who the hell knows that? My wife is fond of saying, and she's correct, Phantom, as in any other show I've done, and I've done a lot of them, "One day he went to work with a lot of talented people." And that's precisely what it was, a day like any other day when you get up and go to work.

Original Phantom star Michael Crawford

The Majestic on Broadway must be a special place for you. You also staged Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music there.
HP: I went to the Majestic on opening night of South Pacific, and it's there that I met Steve Sondheim, so the idea of being in the Majestic all these many occasions is terrific, and that particular night changed my life.

When you first encountered Phantom, how much of the script and score were you presented with? Were there gut reactions or early inspirations that you still recall?
HP: I was [involved] pretty early in... There was some work being done by [co-lyricist/librettist] Stilgoe, and Andrew had a few songs. I worked very closely with [scenic and costume designer Maria] Bjornson. I think I made, who knows, maybe almost a dozen trips to Europe, and she came to New York maybe once or twice, just working on the scenery and the way it would look. The costumes came very quickly to her, but [for] the scenery we had a lot of conferences and a lot of little models, the half-inch model and stuff. That was very exciting. It was an exciting show to do. It sort of spun out nicely. The pre-production time was the most time consuming. Then, once we were cast and in a rehearsal room, it went very smoothly.

Can you speak about casting Phantom? Fans are very attached to the two original stars, who really created a blueprint for the roles of the Phantom and Christine, which was written for Sarah Brightman.
HP: Andrew called me and said, "I think I know who should play the Phantom," and he said, "Michael Crawford." I said, "What? He's great, but I don't know." He said, "What you don't know" — and I didn't know — "is that he was a boy soprano and he has a great singing voice." So, I flew over there right away and we met in Andrew's office and he sang very little for us, he didn't need to, he was terrific, and that was the end of that. That was perfect.


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