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A 'Phantom' Coming To S.F.

July 14th 1988 | E 5:4
Written for The San Crancisco Chronical by Steven Winn

"The Phantom of the Opera" is coming to Theater on the Square in September. Stay calm. It's not what you think.

The San Francisco "Phantom", a 12-year-old grand guignol-style camp operatic adaption of the Gaston Leroux novel, shares only its name with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that's currently a smash hit on Broadway. Conceived and first staged by Ken Hill in Lancaster, England, in 1976 and subsequently remounted in London in 1984 and then again at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis last year, the "other" Phantom is slated to begin previews at Theater on the Square September 9. The show officially opens here on September 28.

Where Lloyd Webber illuminated Leroux's macabre love story with an original pop score, Hill turned to Verdi, Gounod, Offenbach and other composers for a musical pastiche. In "The Complete Phantom of the Opera", a book detailing the numerous stage and screen treatments of the story, George Perry calls the Hill version "rumbustious and un-ashamedly camp". Perry also reports that it was a London review of the Hill production that first interested Lloyd Webber in the idea of a "Phantom" musical.

Hill's own account of his show's history includes mention of several meetings he, Lloyd Webber and Lloyd Webber's producer, Cameron Mackintosh, had before the parties parted ways to work on their respective versions. At one point Hill thought of casting Sarah Brightman, as the heroine Christine. Brightman, who is now Lloyd Webber's wife, plays Christine in the Broadway "Phantom".

According to TOTS' Jonathan Reinis, who has formed a partnership with Peking Acrobat producer, Don Hughes and raised half a million dollars to bring "Phantom" to San Francisco, this version is distinct from the Broadway production in several important ways.

In addition to the fundamental differences in music and theatrical styles, there's the issue of when the title character actually appears. In Lloyd Webber's version, the Phantom is onstage throughout the show. In Hill's, he remains an amplified offstage voice until two-thirds of the way into the action.

Reinis and Hughes hope to cast their "Phantom" locally with "operatic quality" singers. And Reinis promises "the most elaborate pro-duction in the history of Theater on the Square".

A spokesman for Broadway producer Cameron Mackintosh declined to comment on the prospect of another commercial production of "Phantom of the Opera". Mackintosh himself was out of the country and unavailable. A second U.S. company of the Lloyd Webber musical is expected to open in Los Angeles in May. The spokesman said that a tour of the Broadway "Phantom" production probably would not reach San Francisco before the 1990s.