The ‘Phantom’ never dies

The world’s most successful musical returns for a 10-day run at Taipei Arena

By Diane Baker  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fri, Jul 10, 2009 - Page 13

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Andrew Lloyd Webber’s blockbuster paean to romantic love and obsessive stalkers The Phantom of the Opera is back in Taipei for a two-week run at Taipei Arena, beginning tonight.

While Lloyd Webber and his production crew are busy preparing to launch a long-anticipated sequel to the 23-year-old mega-musical, titled Love Never Dies, the Phantom continues to draw big audiences around the world, with productions currently on stage in New York, London, Buenos Aires, Budapest, Copenhagen, Warsaw and the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, as well as a national touring show in the US. The Phantom is the most financially successful musical of all time, and has outperformed cinematic blockbusters such as Titanic.

This is not the first time Taipei has played host to the Phantom. A production by The Really Useful Company Asia Pacific, featuring American Brad Little in the title role, sold out a record 63 performances at the National Theater in 2006.

Little, who has played the role more than 2,000 times since 1997, is back for the Arena run, and the two-hour make-up process that each shows entails.

For those who may have been desert island castaways for the past two decades, here’s a brief synopsis of the musical’s plot, which was based upon Gaston Leroux’s novel Le Fantome de l’Opera.

A mysterious and masked “Angel of Music” who haunts the lower depths of the opera house befriends Christine, a young singer in the chorus of the Paris Opera. He offers to help her by coaching her in singing but later shocks her by telling her that he is in love with her. He also tries to boost her career by demanding that she be given the lead in a new opera, Il Muto. The opera house managers refuse his demand, giving the lead to their prima donna Carlotta and giving Christine the second lead. However, disaster strikes on the opening night of the new production when a stagehand is killed, Carlotta loses her voice and the massive opera house chandelier comes crashing down (it’s quite a crash — the “traveling” chandelier is 3m wide and weighs one tonne).

The action advances six months; Christine has become secretly engaged to a young nobleman, Raoul. The Phantom once again demands a new opera, Don Juan Triumphant, be staged. This time the authorities decide to use Christine as bait to trap the opera house’s mystery man. As the opera comes to its end, the Phantom takes the place of the lead singer and confronts Christine on stage. He escapes with her to his lair, where he demands that Christine stay with him or he will kill Raoul, who has followed them down into the depths of the building. Instead, she kisses him and the Phantom allows them both to leave while he waits for the mob that has been hunting him. While it appears that time has run out for the elusive Phantom, he has one more trick up his sleeve.

Lloyd Webber has been dropping hints about a sequel for years and last December he said plans were underway to bring the new production to the stage later this year in three cities including London and Shanghai.

The launch has now been pushed back to next spring in London and it looks like the plot has been inspired by Frederick Forsyth’s 1997 book, The Phantom of Manhattan, and involves a mysterious maestro who runs a theater on Coney Island. He invites Christine to give a concert and she arrives in New York with her husband Raoul and their son.

If the sequel does make it to the stage, it will have a lot to live up to. The Phantom turned its original Christine — Lloyd Webber’s then-wife Sarah Brightman — into a star and it has racked up a record number of awards over the years, including three Olivier Awards (London stage) and seven Tony Awards (New York City stage).

Each performance of this mega-musical sets its own records, with 230 costumes, 22 scene changes, 281 candles and 250kg of dry ice. Taipei is simply another cog in the machine that is The Music of the Night.

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