Andrew Lloyd Webber is widely regarded as one of the most successful musical composers of our generation. His greatest hits are currently being broadcast on the YouTube channel ‘The Show Must Go On’, for free during the coronavirus lockdown. While many argue over which of the 13 musicals he composed was his biggest hit, ‘Phantom of the Opera’ smashed a number of records in the years following its debut performance in 1986. It remains the longest running show in Broadway history in the US and had been seen by 130 million in 145 cities and 27 countries, by 2011. Despite the production’s unimaginable success, Lord Webber delivered a cutting comment about the inspiration for the show during an unearthed interview.
‘The Phantom of the Opera’ tells the story of a disfigured man, hidden behind in a mask, who was abandoned by a travelling freak show in Paris, France.
The eponymous lead falls in love with a young and emerging soprano Christine Daaé who performs at the opera house which he haunts.
He wreaks havoc behind the scenes in bid to land her lead roles, including smashing an expensive chandelier, and hopes the heartthrob will develop feelings for him too.
The tale itself originated in Gaston Leroux’s 1909 novel of the same name – but according to a 2006 NPR interview, Lord Webber wasn’t overly impressed.
They wrote: “He didn’t think much of the novel – but he thought it might make a good show.”
Despite the sleight, he set about developing a musical adaptation of that now-infamous story because of an intriguing muse.
Cameron MacIntosh, the show’s producer, revealed that it was Lord Webber’s then-wife musical legend Sarah Brightman who inspired him.
He said: “Realising the extraordinary voice she had, that suddenly became the catalyst for him to want to write the show.
“It gave him an entry into how he would compose the music.”
The show debuted at Her Majesty’s Theatre, in London, with Michael Crawford in the lead role, in 1986 – two decades later it had been seen by more than eight million people.
At that time, it was the most successful entertainment venture of all time, according to the BBC, who revealed it sold more than £1.8billion box office ticket sales worldwide.
That far exceeded ‘Titanic’, which was the world’s highest earning movie of the era – which had brought in £670million.
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