Opera Backstage

The Phantom of the Opera unmasks at Austin's Bass Concert Hall

The Phantom of the Opera unmasks at Austin's Bass Concert Hall

The Phantom of the Opera 2017 Derrick Davis Katie Travis
Derrick Davis and Katie Travis In The Phantom of the Opera. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Decades ago, The Phantom of the Opera was my first exposure to high-quality musical theater. When it hit the stage in 1986, it set the bar extremely high. I think it’s fair to say the phenomenon that is Phantom is unique and has never, nor will ever be, replicated. Not just because it broke all kinds of box office records in its time and is still the longest running Broadway show of all time, but because of the haunting score that propels its audiences into a deep cavern of emotions.

Musical supervisor John Rigby is quick to extol the virtues of The Phantom of the Opera and its composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber. “I think his contribution to the world of musical theater can’t be understated — he’s one of the greatest living composers of musical theater.”

Phantom tells the story of a soprano singer who is the object of affection to a disfigured musical genius. The award-winning show that’s more than 30 years old has been reinvented and is touring with a cast of 50-plus people, including some extremely talented musicians.

Rigby prepped the current orchestra and cast for the tour, which will be unmasked at Bass Concert Hall April 19 for a nearly two-week run. He has a long history of working with Andrew Lloyd Webber and says although the current touring production has some differences from previous runs, the score remains untouched. “It’s one of Andrew’s best-known and best-loved creations — it’s not something that we want to mess around with but we did re-look at the orchestration.” 

Rigby says in preparation for Phantom’s 25th anniversary tour several years ago, the show was reexamined to determine how it could be updated for 21st-century audiences. “I think it’s one of the marks of a great piece of musical theater — that they stand up to reexamination and different productions in the same way that opera and Shakespeare do.”

The production stopping in Austin includes updated sets, costumes, staging, and scenic design. Rigby says it has a "sweep" to it that is matched by the music. “It has a dramatic drive to it so we wanted to kind of find a way to reflect that in the orchestration so that when people are in the theater they feel as though they are being driven along by the sound as much as the visuals.”

Rigby didn’t hesitate to encapsulate the unwavering appeal of The Phantom of the Opera over the years. “It’s a classic love story told through the most passionate and glorious music.” And he says it’s the music that has allowed Phantom such a long history, “But I’m probably biased,” he admits.

Whether you’ve seen Phantom five times or not at all, it’s a show that never gets old. “I like to say it’s the same old grape wine but served in new glasses,” Rigby says.

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You can take in The Phantom of the Opera at Bass Concert Hall April 19-30.