New ‘Phantom of the Opera’ builds suspense with reimagined staging


Cameron Mackintosh calls it “the 25-year itch.”

The producer of musicals such as “Les Misérables,” “Cats,” “Miss Saigon,” “Oliver” and “Mary Poppins” feels the need to refresh some of his past successes about every 25 years, as well as some classics. He’s recently redone “Miss Saigon” and “Les Misérables” and also has done classics “My Fair Lady” twice and “Oliver” three times.

“It’s something I love doing just as much” as creating original musicals, he says. “It’s a great challenge.”

One of his reimaginings is coming to Austin this week as part of the Broadway in Austin series. “The Phantom of the Opera,” which Mackintosh created with Andrew Lloyd Webber, first appeared on stage in 1986 in London and then as a fresh take in 2012. It comes to Bass Concert Hall on April 19-30.

Mackintosh says he doesn’t redo a musical just to redo it.

“Because I know it inside and out, I’m my own greatest critic,” he says. “Is something as good or just change for change’s sake, which I don’t agree with.”

If that’s the case, then he says he keeps at it until it is just as good, probably better.

While the script and music are essentially the same in this “Phantom,” the staging is vastly different in ways that will surprise audiences who saw the original.

“Anyone who has seen it hasn’t seen it like this,” he says. “The material is exactly the same with a few little tweaks, but just the way the show works is very different.”

Audiences who saw the 1980s “Phantom” won’t be disappointed by the change, Mackintosh says. “They are seeing something they may know, but as long as it’s good, they love the difference.”

For those who have never seen a “Phantom,” it will feel like they are seeing something new, he says.

“The brilliant musicals can be re-examined by a different generation,” he says. “They will have a different viewpoint.”

For this reimagined “Phantom,” Mackintosh went back to the 1910 book by Gaston Leroux and thought about who this phantom was. He was an inventor.

The new version takes the hall of mirrors in the book and makes it an essential element. The whole stage opens and closes and becomes things. Mackintosh likens it to a giant Advent calendar. “We can go places that we could never go in the original,” Mackintosh says.

Doors open and the Phantom appears. We see a whole lot more of the backstage of the famous opera house the Phantom occupies. We watch the Phantom stalk Christine as parts of the stage move to show us the Phantom’s movement throughout the theater.

“The approach is more visceral,” he says. “It’s much more real-world.” It also feels more dangerous, less high romance, Mackintosh says.

Many of the signature scenes of the original — the falling chandelier, the boat ride descent into the Phantom’s lair — are done completely differently.

“It’s more shocking what it does,” Mackintosh says of the chandelier. Scenes like the boat ride, he says, “are equally striking, but in different ways.”

The way the chandelier works would not have been possible 30 years ago. Advances in computers and lighting technology make it all possible.

“What I love about this show is it’s its own thing,” he says.

Mackintosh says he currently has 30 to 40 productions going on around the world at any given time. His newest work is a version of “Half of Sixpence,” a little-known 1963 musical based on an H.G. Wells book, “Kipps,” that was turned into a 1968 movie. It’s now in London. He also is bringing “Hamilton” to London. This fall, he’s bringing a new “Les Misérables” to North American stages. His “Miss Saigon,” which is currently on Broadway, will be touring North America 18 months from now.



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