WHEN the Phantom of the Opera opens at the Edinburgh Playhouse tonight, all eyes will be firmly on the cast.
But what about the elaborate – and it is particularly elaborate – set which surrounds them?
It may look like a seamless extension of the historic theatre but it is in fact the result of one of the biggest stage transformations the Playhouse has seen in recent years.
An unseen army has been hard at work getting ready for the Cameron Mackintosh production, ensuring that everything – down to the famous chandelier – is absolutely perfect for opening night.
The chandelier was carefully manoeuvred into place directly over the audience yesterday as the finishing touches to the stage were put in place.
Overseeing it all was production manager Chris Boone.
He said: “They’ve had some big shows at The Playhouse, but this has to be up there with the biggest.
“We’ve moved 21 trucks here from Leeds and had shifts working round the clock to be ready for opening night.
“The new set design is absolutely amazing. There’s so many little tricks built into the scenery.
“A curved wall which is meant to look like backstage at a theatre and weighs ten tonnes, has concealed parts which open up to create set-pieces for different parts of the show – plus it all rotates 360 degrees. It’s powered by batteries – like a giant milk float!
“I can’t give too much away, but there’s so many tricks and magic effects. People have absolutely loved it, wherever we’ve been.”
It’s hardly surprising the Phantom has been “re-imagined” as there is a good chance the majority of the audience have seen a version before.
The longest running production in the history of Broadway, it has clocked up over 20,000 performances in the United States and over 10,000 in London.
But with box office revenues higher than any film or stage play in history, including Titanic, Star Wars and Avatar, the show is showing no signs of slowing down as the musical celebrates its 25th year.
Jerry Donaldson, Technical Director for Mackintosh, who has worked with him for 16 years, adds: “Even those who have seen Phantom many times before are going to find a lot that will surprise them. It’s a completely new concept for the show.
“This has all taken a long time to be developed properly, it was about two years in the making.
“I wasn’t involved in the conception of Phantom originally but when you get the chance to reinvent it, it’s so exciting.”
Mackintosh, who has also recently rejuvenated some of his other hit musicals, including Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, is well known for his hands-on approach.
Jerry said: “Cameron has a very clear vision and knows exactly what he wants. However, he’s still a great guy to work with. While I wouldn’t say no to him, I know if something simply isn’t possible he will listen to what we’re saying – as long as we can come up with a suitable alternative.”
Chris added: “He is definitely a perfectionist, everything has to be cleared by him. Wherever any of his shows go, they must be performed exactly as he has specified.”
Mackintosh himself is currently in London, editing a new film version of Les Miserables, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, but is expected to visit Edinburgh during the show’s run.
Jerry added: “He has been in constant contact and is planning to come up and see the show. We’ll probably find out on Monday that he’s coming on Tuesday! Not that it makes a difference what night he comes. Cameron always says that every night is the first night for the audience, and that’s why we strive to maintain his high standards, especially on a show like Phantom.
“It’s a national institution, really. Everyone knows the music.”
The Phantom of the Opera opens at The Playhouse tonight and runs until October 20. Tickets are still available for the run.
‘A once-in-a-decade experience’
Paul Skeggs, stage manager at The Playhouse, worked on the first production of Phantom at the venue, in 1995.
“Back then I was productions carpenter, so I looked after the set and maintained it. I remember there were so many fringed curtains involved in the show I would have to spend eight hours every Friday just combing out tassels. So, as thrilled as I was when I heard it was coming back, my heart did sink a little bit at the thought of all that combing.
“Thankfully, this show and set is entirely different. It’s completely redesigned, there was literally nothing I recognised. I’m sworn to secrecy, but I think audiences are going to be very surprised.
“Cameron Mackintosh is a wise old fish. Working with him and his crew is always a great experience, he really is the crème-de-la-crème of producers and all his shows have very high production values.
“When Cameron comes to town, audiences know they’ll get something here they won’t see in other musicals. It really is a once-in-a-decade, all-singing, all-dancing experience.”
The Phantom of the Opera in numbers
632 individual strings of beads on the chandelier
44 candles in the Masquerade Ball scene
4000 Swarovski crystals on Christine’s masquerade dress
4 hours of ironing to get the costumes ready
Ten loads of washing per show using 10kg of washing powder and 15 litres of fabric conditioner per city
108,872 tickets on sale for the whole run
11,000 ice creams are expected to be sold throughout the run
More than 3km of multicoloured cable to power the lighting
25 tonnes of lights and scenery suspended from the grid over the heads of the acting company