Phantom: The American Musical Sensation is a musical with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and stage play written by Arthur Kopit. It was based on Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera and is frequently described as the most successful musical never to have played on Broadway.
Yeston and Kopit had just finished the musical Nine, winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1982, when they were approached by Geoffrey Holder to write an American musical based on Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, The Phantom of the Opera. Holder had obtained the rights from the Leroux estate, making Phantom the first and only Phantom of the Opera musical to do so. The plans were for Holder to direct.
Yeston and Kopit's original problems with the storyline were the questions of: “Why did Erik, the Phantom, love Christine?” and “How did they meet?”. Leroux's book offered no insight into these questions. In the novel, Christine and the Phantom had already met and known each other for some time, and there was not an explanation as to why he loved her. Yeston and Kopit decided to move the story to an earlier period to the time of the actual meeting so that the audience could experience that moment. They also decided to place the Phantom in danger so that Christine could be his salvation. The Phantom's danger was that he had a life-sustaining need for beautiful music and could not exist without it. The conflict in the story comes two-fold: firstly, when Gerard Carriere loses his position as head of the Opera house and therefore cannot protect Erik anymore; and secondly when Carlotta, the new diva and owner of the Opera, starts to sing. She has such a terrible voice that the Phantom is in torment and his salvation must eventually come through Christine, whose voice is so amazing that he falls in love with her. The story also twists later on when it is revealed that Gerard Carriere, the previous owner of the Opera house, is actually Erik's father. Erik's worst fear is that he would be captured and treated like an animal in a zoo because of his horrendous face. The police surround him and the chief of police tells his men not to shoot because they "can take him alive!" It is Erik's worst nightmare that he will be put on display like some circus freak, so he shouts out to his father for help. Carriere understands and he grabs a policeman's gun and aims at his son. He can't bring himself to do it, but Erik begs him. Carriere fires and the Phantom falls, calling out Christine's name.
Yeston and Kopit also had to deal with other problems; an event that would impact the publicity of their musical. In 1984, British producer Ken Hill did his own melodrama musical of The Phantom of the Opera in England. This was not a big threat to Holder, Kopit and Yeston---their musical was going to play American Broadway. But the real threat emerged through an announcement in Variety (magazine) where an article was published concerning plans for a musical production of The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
It turned out that the rights to The Phantom of the Opera were in the public domain in Great Britain. Geoffrey Holder only held the rights for two more years in the United States and Europe before the property became public domain there as well.
The race was on to bring the story of The Phantom of the Opera as a musical to America. Andrew Lloyd Webber had instant fame with his rendition in Britain and plans were announced for Broadway. In the meantime, the three million dollars Yeston, Kopit and Holder raised for their own Broadway production evaporated as investors pulled out. The three decided the musical market for Phantom of the Opera was completely saturated and their project was put aside. According to Arthur Kopit, it was one of the bleakest moments of their lives because they had come to love their work. They went their separate ways for a time.
Shortly after that, Kopit saw the Andrew Lloyd Webber version of The Phantom of the Opera in New York and realized that the approach he and Yeston had taken was fundamentally different that it could still work on the musical stage. A few years later, he rewrote his script outline into a teleplay for a 4-hour 2-part miniseries and sold it to NBC, with Yeston’s blessing. It was filmed at the Opera Garnier, the only Phantom-based story ever to do so, and the only music used was opera music. It starred Charles Dance, Teri Polo and Burt Lancaster and premiered on television in 1990. Kopit said, "I told Maury to hold on. There were Phantom musicals sprouting up all over the place by that time. Maybe someone would see the miniseries, think it would make a good musical and we’d be ready.” In effect, this is what happened.
In January 1991, Houston’s Theater Under the Stars presented the world premiere of the Yeston/Kopit musical---renamed simply Phantom to separate it further from the countless other productions of Phantom of the Opera. That summer, Yeston and Kopit made a few cuts and changes to the musical. In the fall, the revised version was presented in Seattle and San Bernardino and was received very warmly. This led to other editions in other cities, including a 1993 production at Music Theater of Wichita. With more than one-thousand independent productions worldwide, including a multi-year run in Germany, Maury Yeston lovingly refers to it as the most popular hit musical never to star on Broadway.
Performance outside the English-speaking theater
This version of musical had been performed by the Cosmos Troupe of Takarazuka Revue in 2004 (featuring Yoka Wao and Mari Hanafusa) and is performed again in June to October of 2006 by Flower Troupe (featuring Sumire Haruno and Ayane Sakurano as her Grand Theater debut).