Performing Arts

‘Phantom’ producer promises ‘spectacular’ production at Bass Hall

“The Phantom Of The Opera’s” Katie Travis and Chris Mann
“The Phantom Of The Opera’s” Katie Travis and Chris Mann

It’s hard to believe from a man who is now one of the richest people in Great Britain, but when Cameron Mackintosh started producing musical theater in the late ’70s and early ’80s, that venture was — and still is — a risk.

“We had no idea we were going to last a week,” says Mackintosh of the first two biggest musicals he produced on Broadway: Cats in 1982 and Les Misérables in 1987. “When [Cats] opened, a third of Broadway was shot, the road itself was in disarray, and the only long-running shows were A Chorus Line and 42nd Street. And they were about Broadway.”

Both shows had been in London, and became behemoth hits in New York. Then came the hit of all hits, The Phantom of the Opera (by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who also composed Cats), another West End transfer that opened on Broadway in 1988.

It is now the longest-running in the history of the Great White Way. With its famed chandelier crashing onto the stage from above the audience, it also helped invent the “mega-musical” that would continue with Miss Saigon in 1991.

But things change. As each of these shows entered its third decade, it was reworked by Mackintosh for a new production.

Fort Worth audiences will see the changes in Phantom when the tour opens for a two-week run Thursday. It marks the first time Phantom has played at Bass Hall since 1998, when it was the first touring musical to take the stage at the recently opened hall.

Mackintosh is a producer, but more than in the traditional sense of investor. He has been the driving artistic force behind the shows he has produced and their national tours, including overseeing all revisions.

“For me, having been involved in the creation of these shows, no one is more sensitive about how they are put together,” says Mackintosh, who in 1996 added “Sir” to his name when he was knighted. “I’m not interested in being the Madame Tussauds of musicals; the musical theater is a living creation, and they are always contemporary and relevant.”

For Phantom, that means new sets, new projection technology, more stage time for the title character (played in this tour by Derrick Davis) and, if you can believe it, an emotionally darker tone. It moves faster, but has not been cut down.

Don’t worry, the chandelier trick is still there.

“[Both productions are] equally spectacular but in a different way,” Mackintosh says. “I don’t want to still be doing the same show ad infinitum. The original shows still complete their own validity, but I needed to move these shows far quicker than the original productions.”

That no doubt reflects the habits of younger audiences, many of whom weren’t born when Phantom debuted, and who prefer narratives and images that move at faster rates.

That’s just the way things change. Les Misérables and Phantom were very different from the shows Mackintosh and Lloyd Webber grew up on, such as Hello, Dolly! and Fiddler on the Roof.

Mackintosh has had a hand in a number of revivals of classic titles, including Mary Poppins, Oliver!, Carousel, the ballet Swan Lake and, most recently, a new version of the 1960s musical Half a Sixpence in England.

So what’s next for the theater superstar? The forthcoming West End production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, the latest musical that has changed musical theater — arguably in more profound ways than any musical since Mackintosh’s 1980s heyday.

The Phantom of the Opera