Phantom of the Opera Original Cast: Where are they now?
When the original London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘The Phantom of the Opera‘ opened in 1986 it quickly became a worldwide phenomenon. Produced by Cameron Mackintosh, the show was one of the ‘mega-musicals’ of the 1980’s and inspired productions all over the world. The show is now the longest running Broadway musical and has entered its 26th year at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. The show’s success has not been repeated, and the reason for its domination is not exactly known. The original production created much hype due to the casting of the lead roles. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s wife Sarah Brightman took on the role of chorus-girl-come-star Christine Daae; a move which lead many people to draw parallels with the author and the chief protagonist. Written as a star vehicle for Brightman, the score included notes which would show off her fantastic range, propelling her into stardom. Rather than take on the role of the Phantom himself, the production team cast Michael Crawford in the lead role, in a move that raised many eyebrows in the theatrical world.
Perhaps the success of the show stems from the unlikely pairing of these two stars. Twenty Six years on, we wondered what had become of the original cast and wanted to know if creating these iconic roles helped propel them into musical theatre stardom…
Crawford was no stranger to the stage when he was picked to be part of the original Phantom cast, although he was most famous for portraying the delightfully camp Frank Spencer in the BBC sitcom ‘Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ’em’ The show was initially produced between 1973 and 1975 and quickly became one of the channel’s most watched programs. Crawford admired the famous comics of the past, and was committed to doing all of his own physical comedy and stunts himself. On the back of this success he was invited to star as the lead character in ‘Billy’ a musical based on the novel ‘Billy Liar’. The show opened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and it was from this production that Crawford began to get more serious about his vocal studies. From this he went to star in the British premiere of ‘Barnum’ at the London Palladium, which ran for 655 performances and was one of the most successful musicals of the season. His reputation began to build as a singer and entertainer, especially onstage.
Sheer coincidence introduced Crawford to Andrew Lloyd Webber, who had already begun working on ‘Phantom’ alongside his then wife Sarah Brightman. Brightman shared a vocal coach with Crawford, and it was at a chance overlap that Lloyd Webber heard Crawford sing, and began to pursue him for the lead in his next musical. After a lot of persuading, Crawford took the role despite many sceptics questioning his emotional ability to handle such a challenging part. Crawford began performances in 1986 at the Her Majesty’s Theatre, before transferring with the show to Broadway in 1988 followed by Los Angeles a year later. During his 1,300 performance stint he clocked up an impressive Olivier Award, Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and Drama Critics Circle Award, finally leaving the show on April 29th 1991.
After working on a number of albums and solo concert appearances, Crawford’s next full stage show was EFX at the MGM Hotel in Las Vegas, which opened in 1995. When the show began performances, it was billed as the largest and most expensive theatre installation in the world. Early into the run, Crawford was injured during one of the stunts and had to withdraw from the show. The production cost a record $70million to produce and ran for seven years featuring a host of different stars. Crawford gave it a few years before returning to Broadway in a short lived flop musical ‘Dance of the Vampires’ which featured music by rock legend Jim Steinman. The show had been a huge hit in Germany, although on Broadway it was a miserable failure, closing after 56 performances. Crawford received $30,000 a week to play the lead role, with fans of the show blaming him for its failure.
He sprung back onto the West End in 2004 with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical ‘The Woman in White’ where he played the obese villain Count Fosco opposite Maria Friedman. The show was a critical and commercial disaster, and Crawford was forced to withdraw early due to illness brought on by wearing a fat suit at every performance. He moved to New Zealand to recover from the disease and be near to his family. It was Andrew Lloyd Webber once again that kept him in work, offering him the role of The Wizard in the 2011 revival of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at the London Palladium. Starring alongside Danielle Hope, the winner of the BBC Talent search ‘Over the Rainbow’ Crawford played a number of roles throughout the musical, as well as performing two new numbers written especially for the new show. In October 2011 he joined the 25th Anniversary production of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ at the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate onstage with other members of the original cast and crew – the show that solidified his star status still at the centre of his career.
Despite starring in the original production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Cats’, the chorus girl went unknown to the composer for some time. It was not until she took on a number of smaller roles in other musicals that he spotted her vocal potential, writing the song ‘Pie Jesu’ for her, which sold 25,000 copies on the day of release and peaked at number 3 in the UK charts. Brightman married Lloyd Webber in 1984 and the duo seemed unstoppable, taking over the classical charts and the West End stage. The role of Christine was written specifically for her, and she opened the production alongside Michael Crawford in 1986 at Her Majesty’s Theatre. After initial problems with American Equity, Lloyd Webber demanded she star in the original Broadway production, and she transferred to the Majestic Theatre, helping the show take in excess of $17 million in pre-sale tickets. After leaving the show she toured internationally singing classical and musical theatre repertoire, releasing albums all over the world. In 1990 she split from Lloyd Webber, but was still cast as the lead in his new show ‘Aspects of Love’ which failed to capture the public’s attention like the previous hit.
After breaking from the composer who had thrust her into the limelight, Brightman was anxious to develop her career herself. She sang on a number of world stages, the most iconic being at the closing of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Singing with Jose Carreras they engaged a worldwide audience of over 3 billion with the song ‘Amigos Para Siempre’ or ‘Friends Forever’. Her second classical collaboration ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ with Andrea Bocelli was a tribute to Henry Maske and became an international hit, selling over 3 million copies in Germany alone. The song has more recently been known as one of Brightman’s signature songs.
In 1998 she had her own PBS special filmed at the Royal Albert Hall, solidifying her presence in the Classical charts. She also guest starred in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 50th Birthday Celebration singing alongside Antonio Banderas and Michael Ball. Guest appearances and concerts ranged from the 2007 Concert for Diana to Live Earth, along with countless Football cup finals and Royal engagements. She became one of the biggest cross over artists of the 20th century, alongside Charlotte Church and Russell Watson.
More recently she has performed at the opening of the Beijing Olympics, broadening her fan base to Latin America and Asia. She has won a string of global awards and has been given the key of the city to both Chicago and Istanbul. Although she has not returned to musical theatre, she remains heavily associated with the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber – especially Phantom of the Opera. She regularly sings music from the show in concert and it remains in her most popular repertoire. She is currently the world’s richest female classical performer boasting a fortune of over £30 million. For full biography information and to find out where Sarah will be performing next, visit her official website.