“The Phantom of the Opera,” which celebrated its 25th anniversary with a gala on January 26, is quite simply the most commercially successful entertainment enterprise in history — by a long shot. It has been seen by 130 million people and has grossed $5.6 billion worldwide. Compare that to the measly $2.78 billion box office for “Avatar,” the highest-grossing film of all time. And the musical is still going strong, after having toppled “Cats” — six years ago — for the title of the longest-running Broadway show.
So how does the team that created “Phantom” — including producer Cameron Mackintosh, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, director Harold Prince, choreographer Gillian Lynne — top that? Well, they probably can’t. But it’s notable that all are immersed in new projects which made the gala celebration just a momentary pause in their active careers. Mackintosh — whose resume also includes “Cats,” “Miss Saigon,” and “Les Miserables” — will be at the Oscars this year, celebrating the eight Oscar nods and healthy box office of his film version of “Les Mis,” starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. “I’ve never been busier,” he said as he stood in the lobby of the Majestic, mobbed by well-wishers. When asked whether “Miss Saigon” would be the next of his mega-hits to reach the screen, he said, “It’s just so exhausting making these things, I need a rest before I even think about it.”
Meanwhile, in addition to globally mounting dozens of productions of shows from his catalogue, Mackintosh is developing a revival of “Barnum,” the 1981 Cy Coleman-Michael Stewart musical of the American showman who believed in the adage, “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.” “I’ve always wanted to revive ‘Barnum,’ we were just waiting for the right actor,” Mackintosh said, adding that there will be significant revisions to the show. He found his perfect Phineas Taylor Barnum in the Broadway character actor Christopher Fitzgerald (“Young Frankenstein,” “Finian’s Rainbow”). The show is due to open this summer at the Chichester Festival Theatre and, if all goes well, West End and Broadway should follow.
Prince, who has a record 21 Tony Awards on his shelf as both director and producer, is working on “The Prince of Broadway,” an anthology of his shows, including such monster hits as “Phantom,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Cabaret,” “West Side Story,” “A Little Night Music,” and “Evita.” The production, which will be co-directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman (“The Producers”), was postponed for a year due to lack of financing and is now slated to open next fall.
Gillian Lynne could not attend the gala as she is just about to open a London revival of Jerry Herman’s “Dear World,” the 1969 Broadway flop based on Jean Giradoux’s satire “The Madwoman of Chaillot.” With the inestimable Betty Buckley (“Cats”) playing the title role, it may well be time for this eccentric musical about corporate villains lured to their demise at the hands of a bunch of eccentric iconoclasts. “Enron” may have flopped on Broadway, but the British public adored laughing at those easily hoodwinked Americans.
And most notably missing from the gala was the Lord himself. Lord Lloyd Webber, that is. The composer was holed up in London by impending surgery for a bad back. At the curtain call for the gala performance, he was wittily present via a video in which he praised a cocktail of “Moet and morphine” as the way to get through his current predicament. By his side was Sarah Brightman, his ex-wife and muse who inspired “The Phantom of the Opera” and was its original heroine. Following surgery, Lloyd Webber will resume work on a musical based on a 1963 British political scandal that badly damaged the government of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and led to the resignation of his secretary of war, John Profumo. The married secretary’s affair with showgirl Christine Keeler became entangled in Cold War politics because of her concurrent dalliance with a Soviet naval attaché, an imbroglio that served as a preamble to mod swinging London and inspired the 1989 film “Scandal.” Working with Don Black and Christopher Hampton (his collaborators on “Sunset Boulevard”), Lloyd Webber hopes to unveil the musical at this summer’s Sydmonton Festival, an annual gala held on the composer’s country estate where, by the way, “The Phantom of the Opera” was first heard in 1985.
Image: Hugh Panaro and Sierra Boggess in “The Phantom of the Opera”/Photo By Joan Marcus