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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

Gaston Leroux

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....

Gaston Leroux, the French author who created Le Fantome de l'Opera in 1910, passionately described to his readers the mysterious events that had occurred in the famous Opera House in the 1800s. Should we believe him? After all, Leroux is quite a colorful figure himself. Born in 1868 - six years before the New Paris Opera was completed - Leroux claimed to have been a jack-of-all-trades. If his life story is to be believed, he was "a lawyer, a legal chronicler, stage critic, writer on hygiene, dramatist, newspaper correspondant, globe-trotter and novelist". His travels took him from Finland to Morocco, and from England to the Caspian Sea. According to Leroux, he faced death no fewer than twenty times while disguised as an Arab in Morocco. So, why should we even question the existence of Leroux's Phantom!

He began writing fiction (although it should be noted that Leroux inists, in his introduction to the book, that The Phantom of the Opera is NOT fiction...) around 1900. Notwithstanding the enormous popularity of The Phantom of the Opera, his literary reputation resides on a short series of detective stories featuring his creation, Joseph Rouletabille, which have been called "among the finest examples of detective stories we possess." Although rare in English, most of Leroux's writings are still can be found in paperback in his native France - over a century after his death in 1927. But in the English-speaking world there is no doubt that his most enduring creation is The Phantom of the Opera. Using the familiar theme of the secretive figure and the endangered heroine, Leroux managed to capture the widspread beliefe in the supernatural that besmeared late nineteenth century France. Leroux's Phantom leads us from the bright opulence of the Paris Opera House - a world of dancers, ornate decor, baroque music and elegant Parisienne society - to the black underworld, deep in the Opera House catacombs.

While the Paris Opera House was only 35 years old when Leroux wrote his novel, the seventeen storied labyrinth had already become more than a temple of culture for the ruling class, it had been a participant in the turbulent history of Paris. Acquiring memories and meanings along the way, the Opera House has held its ground through war, the seige of Paris, the days of the Commune, and the Restoration. Just like the lake that really does exist underneath the building, Leroux declared that the opera ghost truly was the inhabitant of the underground waters. The Phantom, an object of intrigue, inspired rumors and horror stories among opera insiders. Yet audiences through time have come to know the Phantom not as an evil monster, but as a lonely creature crippled by an obssessive love for the beautiful soprano, Christine Daať.

Unfortunately, Leroux never experienced the full flowering of public appreciation for the Phantom in his lifetime. Many say if it had not been for the box office success of Carl Laemmele's 1925 silent film version, starring the magnificent actor Lon Chaney, Leroux's novel might be gathering dust on a library bookshelf. Chaney's realistic portrayal of the terrifying Phantom lurks in the minds of many. Who could ever forget Chaney's face when Christine rips off the Phantom's forbidden mask, revealing his monstrous ugliness (one critic said it caused more than a few viewers to swoon). Filmmakers should have thought better than to improve on Chaney's spellbinding performance. Nevertheless, they tried. In 1943, Claude Rains starred as the vengeful Phantom. Although the second version used sound and colour, they stuck with the original sets used in Chaney's film. A forgettable Spanish version in the early 1900s featured a venomous Phantom whose intent was to kill chorus girls. In 1962, Hammer Pictures created a stodgy remake with an accent on the shock value starring Herbert Lom and Heather Sears. In 1974, a contemporary Phantom emerged when Pressman William's modern satirical remake was set to rock opera in a pop music palace.

In 1976, Ken Hill's Phantom of the Opera appeared ...

Ken Hill

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.

Ken Hill's Phantom musical is a unique and brilliant adaptation of Gaston Leroux's classic novel, dealing with the hideously disfigured Phantom's amorous obsession with the magnificent, naive singer, Christine. Writing witty, original English lyrics to the music of Verdi, Gounod, Offenbach, Mozart, Weber and Donizetti, Hill created a stunning evening of murder, mystery, and song. It is a return to Gaston Lerouxís original story and its long forgotten humour. For Hill, like Leroux, the Opera Ghost is not merely a "creature of the imagination of the artiste," rather he is a spirit who will touch all those who enter the theatre.

1976

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.

1984

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.

Sarah Brightman, who later created the role of Christine in the Lloyd Webber version, was famously asked to play the role of Christine in Hill's version, but she turned the offer down. Her then husband, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and his producer, Cameron Mackintosh, decided to see what all the fuss was about and attended a performance of Hillís Phantom at Stratford East. Prompted by the good reviews, they approached Hill about the possibility of their collaborating on developing a grander scale version of his Phantom for the Victoria Palace Theatre in the West End, and offered to produce it. In fact, Hill and Webber already knew eachother, having worked together earlier on a revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the Winchester Theatre, which Hill directed. Webber and Mackintosh had initially been highly enthusiastic when they met Hill to talk about his Phantom and Hill even remarked later that, "Andrew was over the moon about it. I was bought lots of bottles of wine to be persuaded not to direct it, so we could get somebody else."

Because of these plans to collaborate with Webber, the run at Stratford East was completed without further exploitation (setting aside the possibility for a West End transfer at that point) and Hill began work on alterations which had been suggested by Lloyd Webber and Mackintosh. However, Webber stopped calling a few months later, without a further word to Hill, and announced plans for his own Phantom musical. Hill said, "I'm not the slightest bit bitter about it. It happens in show biz all the time. After all, Phantom was public domain; he had a perfect right to do it ... though he could have sent me a postcard about it, or something!"

1987

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.

1988

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.

1989

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.

1990

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.

1991

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.

1992

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.

1993

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."

The most recent professional production of Hill's Phantom took place in Tokyo, Japan running from 10 November - 28 November 2004. It was produced by Stewart Macpherson of Stetson Productions, the company who have been responsible for the majority of professional productions since Hill's death. They have enjoyed particular success with the musical in Japan, where it has seen three national tours!

Ken Hill's Phantom of the Opera is now available for performance by any amateur or professional theatre company. The performance rights are handled by Samuel French Ltd. and Berlin Associates in London. Please click here for more information.