Hippodrome's an amazing venue for Phantom revival
WHEN audiences obsess over a musical as much as the die-hard fans of Phantom of the Opera there will always be an element of risk about giving it a makeover.
But if there was one man up to the challenge it would be Sir Cameron Mackintosh – touted as one of the world's most powerful theatrical producers.
Sir Cameron had proved any doubters wrong by updating Les Miserables for its 25th birthday. And it is the big screen version of that musical, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway, that he is in the middle of filming when we speak.
"It's very busy," he said. "But going very well. We're hoping to get the filming finished by June to get it out for Christmas but that means a lot of work."
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But between juggling his filming commitments, the respected producer is expected to make his way to Bristol tonight as Phantom settles into its home for a six-week run at the Hippodrome.
The show is the new production with updated choreography, set design and staging, although maintaining Andrew Lloyd Webber's music, Charles Hart's lyrics and designer Maria Björnson's celebrated costumes.
"Twenty-five years is a long time to be doing the same production," Sir Cameron said. "In the normal world you would class a five- or ten-year run a big hit but Phantom, like Les Mis, defied that. It's a phenomenon. The best way to keep it going is to keep the material fresh."
It has taken Sir Cameron five years to put this new production together although the London and New York productions of the show will remain unchanged.
The musical tells the story of a disfigured musical genius who hides away in the Paris Opera House. The ghostly Phantom terrorises the opera company for the unwitting benefit of a young protégée – Christine – whom he trains and loves. Sir Cameron said: "The original production is probably the only version in the world anyone has seen and I was most relieved audiences embraced the new look at it.
"We started with the set and I had the notion of that with Maria (who died suddenly in 2002) and then with Paul Brown. We wanted to bring that juxtaposition of the front of stage, the opera house, and then the backstage.
"We wanted to contrast the grandeur of the ballet and opera house with the stark brutality of back stage – the two worlds in which the Phantom skulks and for audiences to see the world he has also created below the stage.
"I think he appears on stage, in disguise, more often in this production. We've also tried to heighten the story-telling in it and make the Phantom a bit more real."
With the old set the crew would go ahead of the touring production and build the set at each theatre before the company arrived – this set is smaller and easier to transport.
"It's smaller but it still has to do a lot of the tricks," Sir Cameron said.
"It's brilliant, it takes Maria's original idea and is still a big installation. We have moving steps and a gondola to cross to the Phantom's lair and while we don't have the amazing staircase in the opera house we have the hall of mirrors which works very well.
"We needed to keep the majesty and grandeur of the production and what we cannot do is fail to deliver the emotional highs for the audience."
For Sir Cameron the success of Phantom is down to the brilliance of the original material.
He said: "At its basis it is a beauty and the beast story. It's wonderful to think that Andrew has brought the novel to life. It has an emotional intensity to it as well. I think many of us can all relate to escaping into our dreams and like the Phantom, being in love with someone unattainable.
"There is the tangible triangle between Raoul, Christine and the Phantom and ultimately it packs an emotional punch. I think that's what separates it from just another story or an operetta. It's got an emotional change helped by this amazingly beautiful and ravishing score by Andrew."
And Sir Cameron, who lives in Somerset, is no stranger to Bristol or the Hippodrome having spent several months at the theatre putting together his version of Mary Poppins back in 2006 and returning with Les Miserables in 2010.
"I know the theatre very well and have been putting shows on there for more than 45 years. It's lovely and I think the new show will look simply amazing there."
The Phantom of the Opera is on now at the Bristol Hippodrome to Saturday, June 30. Tickets cost £21 to £56. Call 0844 871 3012 to book.