The Phantom of Popularity

The Phantom of Popularity

The following two tabs change content below.
Gale is committed to helping students discover research insights to advance learning and research. Gale Ambassadors are students who work within their own university to increase awareness of the Gale primary source collections available to their fellow students. Our Ambassadors study a variety of different disciplines, and all are open to receiving thoughts or questions from other students at their university about Gale Primary Sources.

│By Evelyn Moran, Gale Ambassador at the National University of Ireland Galway│

Most of us grow up watching musicals on TV, our childhood a medley of singing animals and cartoon princesses. Sometimes we even sing the songs in the shower. As a society we’ve created academic courses on the subject and vigorously debated the merits of live shows versus DVDs. One musical that has without a doubt entered the collective consciousness is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, itself an adaptation of the Gaston Leroux novel. Phantom has left its imprint on pop culture and on the theatre. In this blog post I use Gale Primary Sources to learn more about the musical, which movies may have influenced it, and perhaps shed some light on how it has so enchanted us.

First off, I used Gale’s Topic Finder tool to take a look at the terms associated with Webber’s production:

The Topic Finder (Tile View) visualisation produced by searching Gale Primary Sources for “phantom of the opera musical”.
The Topic Finder (Tile View) visualisation produced by searching Gale Primary Sources for “phantom of the opera musical”.

At first the wealth of information was a little overwhelming, but on taking a closer look I noticed the names of some actors renowned for their starring roles, one of them being the first actor to play the titular role: Michael Crawford. Investigating the list of articles this visualisation gave me, I found that in 1987 Crawford was voted Showbusiness Personality at a Variety Club awards ceremony for his role in Phantom and in another musical called Barnum, as reported in The Times Digital Archive. Additionally, when Sarah Brightman, the first Christine was barred from participating in the 1987 Broadway production, Andrew Lloyd Webber and British Equity stepped in. Keith Turner, Business Affairs Director of the company producing the musical, said “There is a chance the show will not go ahead if Sarah Brightman is not allowed to take part”. Certainly then, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the actors themselves had something to do with the musical’s popularity.

These are the sources that appear on the right-hand side of the Gale Primary Sources interface if one clicks on the tile “Michael Crawford” in the Topic Finder visualisation above.
These are the sources that appear on the right-hand side of the Gale Primary Sources interface if one clicks on the tile “Michael Crawford” in the Topic Finder visualisation above.
Click the link to go to the platform and access the transcript.

Bamigboye, Baz, Chief Showbusiness Reporter. "Crawford is the Phantom of the Opera." Daily Mail, 28 May 1986, p. 3. Daily Mail Historical Archive, 1896-2004, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/EE1861366740/GDCS?u=webdemo&sid=GDCS&xid=239860f9
Bamigboye, Baz, Chief Showbusiness Reporter. “Crawford is the Phantom of the Opera.” Daily Mail, 28 May 1986, p. 3. Daily Mail Historical Archive, 1896-2004, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/EE1861366740/GDCS?u=webdemo&sid=GDCS&xid=239860f9
Click the link to go to the platform and access the transcript.

Gallagher, Paul. "The Phantom of the Opera and a £22m feud with Norway." Independent, 28 Mar. 2015, p. 23. The Independent Historical Archive, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/IM4202989693/GDCS?u=webdemo&sid=GDCS&xid=127a51b7
Gallagher, Paul. “The Phantom of the Opera and a £22m feud with Norway.” Independent, 28 Mar. 2015, p. 23. The Independent Historical Archive, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/IM4202989693/GDCS?u=webdemo&sid=GDCS&xid=127a51b7

In 2004, a film version of the musical was released, starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum. The director, Joel Schumacher, had his own theory why Phantom was so engaging: “I think the Phantom represents the hurt, the rejection, we have all felt at times.” To Schumacher, the tale of Phantom is, at its heart, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. The film came with its own share of rejection too, being a production fifteen years in the making and resulting in many audition tapes Schumacher asserts he has burned, lest they wind up on the internet!

Click the link to go to the platform and access the transcript.

"The Phantom of the Opera." Times, 4 Dec. 2004, p. 33+. The Times Digital Archive, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/IF0502606050/GDCS?u=nli_ttda&sid=GDCS&xid=e73073d7
“The Phantom of the Opera.” Times, 4 Dec. 2004, p. 33+. The Times Digital Archive, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/IF0502606050/GDCS?u=nli_ttda&sid=GDCS&xid=e73073d7

If Schumacher is right, perhaps the musical’s source material, the novel by Lereoux, could shed some light on the matter. An article in the Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive by Ruth Morse details some of the novel’s history. Le Fantôme de l’Opéra was Gaston Leroux’s most famous novel and was published in the newspaper Le Gaulois between 1909 and 1910. Morse opines that the novel owes its popularity to both the musical and the 1925 movie (unrelated to the musical) starring Lon Chaney. Morse calls the novel a “preposterous fantasy” and decries its use of clichés but concedes that Leroux had a strong plot.

Click the link to go to the platform and access the transcript.

Morse, Ruth. "French Literature." The Times Literary Supplement, no. 5692, 4 May 2012, p. 27, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/EX1200564917/GDCS?u=nli_ttda&sid=GDCS&xid=1ce59d3d
Morse, Ruth. “French Literature.” The Times Literary Supplement, no. 5692, 4 May 2012, p. 27, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/EX1200564917/GDCS?u=nli_ttda&sid=GDCS&xid=1ce59d3d
Click the link to go to the platform and access the transcript.

Brown, Geoff. "Screams in silence." Times, 21 Nov. 1996, p. 36. The Times Digital Archive, https://link-gale-com.libgate.library.nuigalway.ie/apps/doc/IF0501189886/GDCS?u=nli_ttda&sid=GDCS&xid=34d6e001
Brown, Geoff. “Screams in silence.” Times, 21 Nov. 1996, p. 36. The Times Digital Archive, https://link-gale-com.libgate.library.nuigalway.ie/apps/doc/IF0501189886/GDCS?u=nli_ttda&sid=GDCS&xid=34d6e001

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical may also draw some inspiration from Universal’s 1925 movie. Whilst the musical takes a less clear line, Universal chose to frame the story as a horror. However, several scenes from the film have become synonymous with our understanding of the story, such as the masked ball and the unmasking of the phantom. According to Geoff Brown, the film “unwittingly created a visual template for every Phantom that followed”. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that Webber’s Phantom was influenced in part by this template, even if the musical is not as easy to categorise as a horror story as the movie.

I can only conclude the allure of Phantom is as multifaceted and mysterious as the title character. Webber has crafted an impressive beast, and one unlikely to be slain by the ravages of time. Phantom is likely to be as popular in ten years as it ever has been, continuing to entrance new viewers with its magic.

Interested in reading more about theatre, musicals and opera, with use of primary sources? Check out Cultural Appropriation or Swiftian Satire? Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado or Jenny Lind – the Swedish Nightingale. You can also explore the Arts and Culture category to find something of interest!

Blog post cover image citation: “Tills ringing Phantom keeps audiences enthralled.” Financial Times, 30 Apr. 2007, p. 20. Financial Times Historical Archive, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/HS2307067650/GDCS?u=webdemo&sid=GDCS&xid=dbfb4278

 About the Author


Evelyn is studying Arts with Creative Writing at NUI Galway. They are working on their first novel. In their spare time they enjoy watching musicals, playing video games and petting dogs.