Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group has moved to quash reports that The Phantom of the Opera has closed permanently and has insisted the “brilliant original” will be returning to the West End.
RUG president Jessica Koravos told The Stage that reports that Phantom had closed permanently, based on an interview Cameron Mackintosh gave to the Evening Standard, were wrong, and that the show was only being closed to allow works to be carried out to both the show’s set and the theatre where it has been performed for 34 years.
She said the musical would return unchanged, using the work of the original creative team, including director Hal Prince and designer Maria Björnson, and added that when the show returns it will “indisputably be the longest-running musical in the West End”.
“What Cameron was meaning to say is, we have closed down the production entity that has been that [production of] The Phantom of the Opera for 34 years, and closed down the physical production. Even before the pandemic hit, we were already in a process of going carefully through the physical production, some parts of it already having been decommissioned,” she said, adding: “There are systems in that set you could not get the replacement parts for me any more – they just aren’t made after 34 years.”
She said a period of closure was needed to renovate the physical production but RUG had anticipated that being “several years in the future, not immediate”.
“Then the pandemic happened and there was no way we would be able to finance two periods of closure,” she said.
She explained that, once work began to inspect the set, it transpired that the fabric of the building underneath also needed work.
“So we have two layers of work that need to happen - to build a whole new set, essentially, and to do repairs on the building, which we can’t get the full measure of until all the set is out,” she said.
Koravos also confirmed the musical would return to Her Majesty’s Theatre and that it would be the original version.
“We are in the process of designing and costing it now, but all the modern technology that exists now and didn’t 35 years ago will be incorporated. It will be Maria Björnson’s design, it will be the original version. It is not a new version of the show – it will be the original Phantom,” she said, but added this would be the first production of the show to open without the involvement of the original creative team.
“A fourth challenge, in addition to the set, the building and pandemic is that most of the original creative team are dead, so this will be the first Phantom production that happens completely without the involvement of Hal Prince. But people who were his associates and were very involved and will step up into the lead positions,” she said. She said it was too early to say whether the returning production would have a reduced cast or band.
Koravos added that she was not able to confirm when the musical will return.
“I wish I could say it’s coming back and here’s when, but I can’t because of the layer of variables with the set and the building and the pandemic. But what I can say on behalf of RUG and Andrew is we will bring it back – we just can’t tell you when at this point in time,” she said.
Koravos also said no other show would come into the theatre before Phantom and that the venue would remain dark until then.
She also confirmed all contracts with the previous production had been terminated, including cast and crew, adding: “Unlike some other shows that can say they will reopen as soon as social distancing ends, we have these other issues which means we are not able to give people a date, and so could not in all good faith keep people hanging on for a genuinely unknown length of time.”
Last week, Lloyd Webber used his London Palladium to run a test event to explore how audiences can safely return to venues.
Koravos said: “I think people will have noticed the incongruity between Andrew on stage last week, saying: ‘I will do everything in my power to get the West End up and running,’ and then a few days later a headline saying his flagship show in his theatre is closing permanently. I wanted to dispel that. He is very engaged, and we all are. It’s the top of our agenda to work out how best and quickest to bring Phantom back,” she said.