Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest musicals are currently being broadcast for free every weekend on YouTube channel ‘The Show Must Go On’. It aims to fundraise for out of work actors and production staff, while entertaining audiences during the coronavirus lockdown. Arguably one of Lord Webber’s greatest hits was ‘Phantom of the Opera’, which had been seen by 130 million people worldwide in 2011. It remains the longest running show in Broadway history, in the US. The debut performance of the musical was in London, in 1986, featuring musical legend Sarah Brightman, Lord Webber’s then-wife, as female protagonist Christine Daaé. She starred alongside Michael Crawford, who played the haunting spectre ‘The Phantom’, who terrorises the Parisian opera house. While the show was a roaring success, unearthed accounts reveal a hilarious snub dealt to the lead actor before the production even began.
The ‘Phantom of the Opera’ was first published as a novel by Gaston Leroux in 1909, but would find greater success on the stage.
While Lord Webber “didn’t think much” of the book, he could see potential for it within his roster of theatre productions – now amounting to 13 in total.
It is claimed that he was inspired by his then-wife Ms Brightman while writing the score and used her to compose the future hit numbers.
He cast her as the muse for Michael Crawford’s eponymously named character, who he played in more than 1,300 shows.
But astonishing accounts reveal that the star never imagined himself in that role and was dealt a crushing comment by Lord Webber before the production began.
The hilarious anecdote was told during the 1998 performance ‘Michael Crawford in Concert’ at the Cerritos Center, in Los Angeles, US.
He recalled Lord Webber bumping into him outside the bathroom at the Apollo Theatre in London during the final preview of his hit musical ‘Starlight Express’ in 1984.
Michael claimed the composer told him “we must do ‘Phantom of the Opera’ together” and the next day he quickly went out to buy the book it was based upon.
The performer explained: “I realised there were only two male roles of any consequence – one was the handsome, young nobleman ‘Raoul’.
“And the other a grotesque slightly older man, ‘The Phantom’. Well of course, I assumed he wanted me to play ‘Raoul.’”
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He explained that he purchased the 1943 film adaptation starring Nelson Eddy as the love interest ‘Raoul’, which he then religiously consumed until he became the character.
Michael said: “So for the next 12 months, I studied this video morning, noon and night, I lived and breathed Nelson Eddy.
“By the end of 12 months, for all intensive purposes, I was Nelson Eddy. I looked like Nelson Eddy, I talked like Nelson Eddy, I even walked like Nelson Eddy.”
After that year, he received a call from Lord Webber to schedule a meeting for the next morning to discuss his role in ‘Phantom of the Opera’ – little did he know, a surprise was waiting in store.
Michael went on: “I walked into the theatre, I struck a pose and said, ‘Well Andrew, I think you’ve got your handsome young nobleman Raoul’.”
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“And he said, ‘Yes we do, we hired him last week’. I said, ‘What’, ‘We want you to be The Phantom.”
Much to the amusement of the crowd, he continued: “I said, ‘What, the ugly, old, du….’ and so I was for over 1,300 performances I donned the mask and the cape.
“Playing The Phantom most certainly changed my life, I loved playing him and I always will, however I do have one or two regrets.
“I’m not a bitter man, but I did after all waste a year of my life”
Shortly after the singer launched into a version of ‘All I Ask of You’, the musical’s famous love duet between Christine and Raoul – the role he mistakenly thought he would be playing all of those years before.
As the audience gave a round of applause once more, as he welcomed Dale Kristien onto the stage, he quipped: “Please you haven’t heard it yet…
“All I ask of you my friends is that you appreciate all the work that went into this and to remember that I do control all the chandeliers above your head.”
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