Have you ever heard the score to PHANTOM?
Your answer may well be “Who hasn’t heard Andrew Lloyd Webber’s biggest hit?”
No, my question was meant literally. I wasn’t using THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA’s
shortened name. I was asking “Have you ever heard the score to PHANTOM?” – the full
title of the musical that composer-lyricist Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit wrote in 1984.
Not long after they’d started writing, the collaborators learned that Gaston Leroux’s
1910 story would soon be in the public domain — and that Lloyd Webber would seize his
opportunity. Although Yeston and Kopit had written the Tony-winning NINE with its
Tony-winning score, they couldn’t compete with the composer who’d done JESUS
CHRIST SUPERSTAR, JOSEPH, EVITA and CATS.
After the triumphant opening of POTO, as Lloyd Webber’s smash has chummily come to
be known, Yeston and Kopit saw their show lay fallow, ostensibly dead. So Kopit took
his script and transformed into a mini-series teleplay. Viewers responded and, coupled
with the renegade PHANTOM OF THE OPERA productions with generic classical music
that were cropping up, Kopit and Yeston wondered if the sudden interest in the masked
man could revive their show.
Indeed it did, and many productions of the simply named PHANTOM were produced in
regional theaters throughout the ‘90s. In 1993-94, I saw it four times in eleven months
at theaters in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and in Elmsford, New York at the
Westchester Broadway Theatre.
It’s been such a success there that it’s returned to Elmsford three more times –
including Tom Polum’s current handsome production that will run through January (with
a most-of-December layoff). The golden-throated Matthew Billman and Kayleen Seidl
are respectively impressive as The Phantom and Christine while Sandy Rosenberg is
hilarious as Carlotta, the diva who’s ego is as big as the Paris Opera House.
But if you can’t get to Elmsford, PHANTOM’s 1992 studio cast album will acquaint you
with the writers’ very different take.
Just as Yeston did with NINE, he goes for many la-la-las in his opening number:
“Melodie de Paris.” He did give it some words, including “Melody” that’s repeated dozens
of times. That’s actually apt, for Yeston’s melody is strong enough to warrant its being
Christine sings it in the streets of the city, for she’s a song-plugger who’s trying to sell
the sheet music to passersby. There’s no Raoul here but Philippe, The Count de
Chandon – the opera’s biggest patron and a ladies’ man who’ll quid-pro-quo Christine
into a relationship by promising her a job in the Opera House.
“Paris is L’amour!” she sings joyously. The Phantom doesn’t think so. That he’s alone
and relegated to the building’s bowels makes him see “Paris is a tomb.”
The Opera House won’t be that now that Carlotta and her husband Alain have
purchased it. “This Place is Mine” is Carlotta’s aria that establishes her hubris in owning
everything “from each toilet bowl to each leading role.”
Carlotta believes that she owns people, too, so she blithely fires beloved longtime
managing director Gerard Carriere and sends costume master Joseph down to the
basement to take inventory. The Phantom, who’s never been threatened with exposure,
suddenly is and violently kills the trespasser.
The writers knew that that was a harsh plot twist, so Yeston ameliorated it with one of
his best songs: “Home,” which is how Christine views the Opera House.
Carlotta, aging in voice and looks, doesn’t make the young, gifted and beautiful
Christine feel at home. She puts her in the costume department after Joseph’s sudden
The Phantom overhears Christine’s singing and it’s Love at First Hear. He realizes that
this is the voice he’s been awaiting since he began composing. He starts her on “The
Music Lessons” and is convinced enough in Christine’s abilities to declare “You Are
Music” – and not just “The Music of the Night,” but morning, noon, afternoon and night.
The cast repairs to a bistro post-performance where everyone gets a chance to sing –
even Carlotta, who does “Paris Is a Lark” where everyone wants to give her the bird.
She’s not a hard act to follow, but even if she had been, “Christine’s Obligato” would
have scored mightily. Philippe is mighty impressed with his discovery. “Who Could Ever
Have Dreamed Up You?” is his jaunty response after they leave the restaurant.
And now that Philippe has insisted that Christine get her chance to star, who could have
dreamed up giving the neophyte a drink that will injure her vocal cords? Why, Carlotta,
of course. Whatever the color of Carlotta’s irises, she’s a green-eyed monster.
In performance, Christine can’t reach the notes she must and faints. The Phantom
swoops in a takes her to her lair, but not before he cuts a rope.
(If you don’t know what comes a-tumblin’ down to end Act One, you haven’t been
paying attention to Broadway for the last three decades.)
Although there’s disaster upstairs at the Opera House, down below there are glorious
songs. The Phantom doesn’t want to think of life “Without Your Music” and Christine
comes to think of him as “My True Love,” perhaps the most glorious song in the score.
True, the Christine in this version does no better than her more famous counterpart
when she sees The Phantom’s scarred face. Aside from that, however, the plot differs
wildly from what Lloyd Webber and lyricists Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe created.
You’ll find out why in the CD’s liner notes. If you can’t see this alternative universe of
PHANTOM at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, do check out the score.
This is all I ask of you.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at
www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com . He can be heard
most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com .