The Phantom Menace

Photo: Marco Secchi/WireImage

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber recently previewed Love Never Dies, the sequel to the 21-years-and-counting musical Phantom of the Opera, for press in London. Assuming that, like its predecessor, Love Never Dies never dies, New York is preparing for what could be a decades-long double residency on Broadway. It’s been a while in the making.

January 1988
• After a blockbuster 1986 opening in London, Phantom previews at the Majestic Theatre. Written by Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Charles Hart and book by Richard Stilgoe, the Paris-set story of a love triangle between chorus girl Christine, nobleman Raoul, and the disfigured Phantom is a hit, winning seven Tonys.

• Original Phantom Michael Crawford leaves Broadway to star in Phantom’s L.A. production. (Sarah Brightman, Lloyd Webber’s then-wife, had already left the role of Christine in the summer of ’88 after a dispute with American Actors’ Equity.) Audiences keep coming, drawn by the production’s signature crashing-chandelier scene and an original-cast album that will spend almost five years on the Billboard 200 with hit songs like “Think of Me” and “The Music of the Night.” Phantom joins Les Misérables, A Chorus Line, and Cats as Broadway musicals that seem as though they might never close.

• The megamusical era reaches its apogee with Miss Saigon, which begins a ten-year run on the strength of an onstage helicopter liftoff.

• Lloyd Webber is knighted the next year.

• Sir Andrew begins planning a sequel set in turn-of-the-century New York. With the novelist Frederick Forsyth (The Day of the Jackal), he creates new characters and a plot that has the now-successful Phantom building an opera house on Coney Island.

• Sir Andrew abandons the project. Forsyth publishes their story as a novel, The Phantom of Manhattan.

• Across the street from the Majestic, The Producers becomes the tenth show to open at the St. James during Phantom’s run.

• A movie version of Phantom is released starring Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler, directed by Joel Schumacher (Batman & Robin, Phone Booth). Nevertheless, the musical remains popular.

Phantom’s 7,486th Broadway performance breaks the record held by Sir Andrew’s own Cats.

The Producers closes after a measly 2,502 performances.

• Novelist (and former collaborator) Ben Elton suggests to Sir Andrew that he jettison the sequel’s new characters, refocusing the story on the iconic trio: Christine, Raoul, and the beautiful creature of darkness himself, plus Raoul and Christine’s 10-year-old son. An inspired Sir Andrew sets to work with lyricist Glenn Slater (The Little Mermaid).

• The sequel reportedly suffers a setback when Sir Andrew’s kitten, Otto, leaps onto the composer’s computerized piano and erases the entire score from its memory.

• Before rehearsals for Love Never Dies have even begun, Sir Andrew records a complete cast album. The New York Post’s Michael Riedel reports that the London budget could go as high as $20 million, raising the question of what even-more-enormous thing could possibly collapse on the stage this time.

• Sir Andrew presents the show and his lead actors at a press conference in London. Canadian Ramin Karimloo, the current West End Phantom, will create the role for the sequel; Sierra Boggess (The Little Mermaid) will play Christine. Love Never Dies will open in London in March, with a Broadway run planned for November (the original Phantom has made $744 million here so far). Sir Andrew is tight-lipped about plot details but does not explicitly rule out the possibility that Raoul and the Phantom will settle their rivalry with a hot-dog-eating contest.

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The Phantom Menace