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"The show, when performed with care, effectively balanced humor and horror. And though it rarely found success in the press, it ALWAYS garnered a standing ovation." - Todd Alan Johnson, US Phantom
For three quarters of a century, The Phantom of the Opera has haunted audiences through literature, drama, and cinema. If only the brilliant mastermind behind the "Phantom Phenomenon" could have lived to see the full conquest of one of the greatest horror classics....
Ken Hillís Phantom of the Opera was the first musical version of The Phantom of the Opera. It's often overshadowed by the later hit musical of the same story, by Andrew Lloyd Webber, but in fact, it was Hill's version which inspired the Lloyd Webber one.
As Ken Hill rummaged through a junk shop, he picked up a copy of Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera novel and decided, on the very same day, to produce it as a stage musical in the original form, using the author's vision. He set to work and a few months later it was complete, and a production was produced at the Dukeís Playhouse, Lancaster (first staged on 26 July 1976), and at the end of Morecambe Pier. It was directed by John Blackmore, designed by Clare Lyth, with musical direction by Gary Yershon. It differed from the later version of Ken Hillís musical, in having a modern musical score by Ian Armit (who also worked with Hill on a production of his The Curse of the Werewolf) in addition to excerpts from the opera Faust by Charles Gounod.
Having never intended for the show to be anything more than a one-off, Hill left his Phantom alone until 1984, when Hill he was in much need of a new idea for a show. Remembering the success he had with his original version of The Phantom of the Opera, he decided to revive it. This time though, he wanted to add the kind of music that would have been heard at the Paris Opera House in the late nineteenth century, the time period in which the story of The Phantom of the Opera is set. Consequently, he discarded the previous modern score by Ian Armit and wrote witty, original English lyrics that told Gaston Lerouxís tale. By placing them to beautiful opera arias by Gounod, Offenbach, Verdi, Weber and Donizetti, he created a musical that reflected the era in which the original novel was written. This revised version of The Phantom of the Opera was first produced in a joint production by the Newcastle Playhouse (where Hill was working as Director of Productions) and the Theatre Royal Stratford East (where Hill had previously spent time with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop company), premiering on 3 April 1984 before transferring to London after a quick tour to the New Tyne Theatre, Newcastle and the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton. The production ws not as successful as anticipated, and the show never really hit the big time until it opened at Stratford East.
Ken Hillís Phantom of the Opera emerges on the other side of the Atlantic for its American premiere with the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. This production starred Sal Mistretta as The Phantom - his performance won him the St. Louis Theatre Critics Award.
Prompted by the success of the St. Louis run, a second US production opened in San Francisco at Theatre in the Square, produced by Jonathan Reinis. It played to sold-out houses for nine months at grossed more than any off-Broadway show during that period.
Whilst Hill had not been involved in either of the initial US productions, the St. Louis and San Francisco runs thrilled audiences so much so that producer Jonathan Reinis persuaded Hill to mount a national tour of the US. Reinis (who later produced Hillís The Invisible Man in London) formed Phantom Touring Company Inc. to produce the tour, and joined forces with; Allen Spivak and Larry Magid (Electric Factory Concerts); Joe Marsh, Lee D. Marshall and Glenn Bechdel (Magic Promotions); and Brad Krassner (Diamond Bullet Corporation). The tour followed the completion of the San Francisco production, and Hill brought back the original Newcastle Playhouse-Stratford East team to design. It played to packed houses all over the US, as well as parts of Mexico and Canada, for nearly five years. The tour visited approximately 110 cities, and grossed a total of $72 million.
The musical was translated into Norwegian by Svein Selvig for a major production at the Det Norske Teatre in Oslo, Norway. This is the only translation of the English libretto that we know of.
Ken Hill's Phantom of the Opera returned to the UK, where it embarked on a national tour and then transferred to Londonís West End immediately following. Produced by Stewart Macpherson and Bernard Theobald, it opened at the Shaftsbury Theatre on 18 December 1991, with Peter Straker as The Phantom and Christina Collier as Christine, both of whom starred in the 1984 production. But despite excellent notices and reviews, the West End run did badly at the box office, with the show sometimes playing to less than 50% capacity, and was forced to close earlier than expected on 11 April 1992 (it was originally intended to last at least until July 1992). However, this didn't stop the show from getting nominated for two of the most prestigious Olivier Awards (equivalent of the Broadway Tony Awards) for Best New Musical (it was one of only two shows nominated!) and Best Director of a Musical, the latter of which placed Hill against Simon Callow and Judi Dench in the same category.
A new song was added to the show for the first Japanese Tour, based upon a beautiful aria by Antonin Dvorak. The title was "All of My Dreams Faded Suddenly" and is sung by the character Christine. It replaced "Love Has Flown, Never Returning", but not before it had been forever imortalised on the West End cast recording. It still remains there to this day, and the more recent addition has never been recorded in Hill's format.
A cast recording of music from the show, featuring the West End cast, was made and released by D Sharp Records. Featuring only snippets of the spoken dialogue in the show, the recording includes approximately half of the show's content. It was later released by BMG and is currently being made and distributed by Stetson Records in New Zealand. The recording is currently being stocked by The Dress Circle shop in London as well as Sound of Music in Germany.
The Years Ahead...
Ken Hill's Phantom of the Opera has toured the world to countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Japan, Korea and the United Kingdom. The most recent UK tour took place in 2000-2001 and was produced by Chris Moreno at the Theatre Royal, Lincoln. Since Hill died in February 1995 and no longer presided over productions, some later productions have occasionally tended to "camp" up the show, despite Hill's fear that "playing for laughs will destroy the story."