November 19

Ken Hill’s Phantom – the original Phantom musical


Peter Straker as Ken Hill's Phantom
Peter Straker as Ken Hill’s Phantom

If it weren’t for Ken Hill’s Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom might never have come into existence.

Ken Hill’s Phantom of the Opera began its life in 1976, ten years before the famous Lloyd Webber musical opened on the West End. It was a stage adaptation which played at a seaside pier theatre, and was then forgotten until eight years later, when Hill needed a new show, and decided to revive it. This time he chose arias from operas which would have played at the Paris Opera House in the Phantom’s period, writing new lyrics for them to tell the story. The musical opened in 1984, with Peter Straker playing the Phantom (making him the first black actor to play the role on stage by many years!).

One of the singers approached to play Christine was Sarah Brightman, and Andrew Lloyd Webber saw and enjoyed the Hill show. Plans were discussed for Lloyd Webber to produce the show on a larger scale. However, when Lloyd Webber read the original novel, he found that he wanted to take a different approach to the story to Hill’s, and decided to write his own version.

In 1987, before the Lloyd Webber show opened in the US, the Ken Hill version toured America successfully. It then toured the UK, before opening in the West End in 1991. The producers tried to put the show on at the Theatre Royal, opposite Her Majesty’s (where the ALW show plays), but the theatre claimed that it didn’t put on musicals – although it then housed one two or three years later. The Ken Hill Phantom played at the Shaftsbury Theatre, where it gathered many good reviews. The production again starred Peter Straker as the Phantom, with Christina Collier as Christine, Steven Pacey as Raoul, and Reginald Marsh as Richard, the manager of the Opera House.

The Show Itself

Ken Hill’s “Phantom of the Opera” is a funny, immensely enjoyable tongue-in-cheek version of Leroux’s story, poking fun at the melodrama, and the pretensions of the opera world. It couldn’t possibly be mistaken for the Lloyd Webber Phantom, and anyone expecting the Lloyd Webber Phantom would be disappointed by it. It has to be seen and enjoyed for itself.

Certain elements of the show are closer to Leroux than Lloyd Webber’s; others are significantly changed. Mme Giry is closer to Leroux’s character, the torture chamber scene is there, and the Persian features. On the other hand, Raoul is the son of the Opera manager, and the Persian is revealed to be Erik’s brother. The Erik of the show is not one that Phantom fans will regard as really being Erik, but the show retains his self-sacrifice in the final scene, and the sense that he was good at heart.

The music is beautiful, and Hill’s lyrics witty. The Phantom’s “While Floating High Above” (using an aria from the Pearl Fishers) is haunting, and the trio on the Angel (“To Pain My Heart Selfishly Dooms Me”) is powerful and moving.


ken hill, peter straker, phantom musicals

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