Phantom rides again in triumph

It’s been a long and bumpy road but the Phantom finally rode again last night and any fears of a let-down were obliterated in the superb, sensational new show at the Adelphi.

Lloyd Webber has certainly matched the quality of the first Phantom score and my deep fears about the absence of producer Cameron Mackintosh, director Hal Prince and designer Maria Bjornson — not to mention the supreme stellar performance of Michael Crawford — are totally confounded.

Mysteries remain, though. Lyricist Glenn Slater never showed at the Press launch, nor did he join the composer and director Jack O’Brien to take a bow at the opening last night.

He’s obviously a phantom lyricist, sulking in his tent like Achilles and planning to take the field when his own work isn’t upstaged by a genius musician.

Otherwise, it was good to see Cameron bubbling along with the show last night, though his photographer partner Michael LePoer Trench batted his eyelids at me in a look of something or other that I haven’t yet decoded.

There have been problems with the last twenty minutes which Cameron clearly thinks they’ve sorted.

His sidekick Nick Allott was shooting the breeze in all directions, not least that of old squeeze Anneka Rice, who was touchingly in eveidence as part of the old Lloyd Webber guard, including Sarah Hugill, or Sarah One, and her grown up children with ALW, Nicholas and Imogen.

Tim Rice was his usual charming and bonhomous self, and Don Black smiled ruefully when I reminded him of his original lyrics for the title number, then called “The Heart is Slow to Learn.” It’s not as though he’s strapped for cash, though, judging by the quality of his overcoat: his art has dough to burn.

No sign of Sarah Two, though. Perhaps she’d stayed behind in the sewers with Glenn Slater plotting a second comeback.

All the peeved bloggers on this site and elsewhere have certainly had a deleterious effect on the show that the critics, on the whole, have managed to correct.

I was called by at least two television stations asking for my comments on a show that is clearly perceived as a flop. The idea that the babble of the blog is inseparable from critical assessment is taking serious and dangerous hold.

The beautiful blonde lady who came to my house in the afternoon from CBC News simply didn’t understand that I, as a critic, wouldn’t be attending the after party in Billingsgate Market, or that I wasn’t wined, dined and feted as a matter of course before the show.

I was stood a glass of wine in the circle bar, though, by ALW’s lawyer, Howard Jones, who happens to live opposite me in North London, and he couldn’t understand why I wasn’t going to the party either!

I also bumped into the actor Nickolas Grace at my little club behind the ENO, where he was awaiting his date, Elaine Paige, and fortifying himself with a large cognac.

Then it was the murder of the red carpet, with a scrum the size of every heads-down in the Six Nations tournament all at once.

I asked PR maestro Peter Thompson, who was operating from one of the box office windows, if I could have a box of Maltesers and seven tickets for the Saturday matinee on June 26th and he told me what I could do with myself, which wasn’t very nice.

Then I found myself sitting behind the designer Bob Crowley and in front of the orchestrator, David Cullen, who is the unsung hero of most Lloyd Webber musicals.

Some critics attended previews, the wimps, but I did spot not only my editor Terri Paddock, but also Matt Wolf of the International Herald Tribune, Mark Shenton of the Sunday Express and Georgia Brown of the Mail on Sunday, perched primly and determinedly on the end of a row alongside the great Irish actor Conleth Hill whose date, Victoria Wood, looked a bit glum.

Then it was the mad rush home to catch the news and the football highlights with a bowl of pasta and a cup of tea. Ah, the glamorous life of it all.

My better and taller half was asked for her views on the show by a thrusting microphone as we left the Adelphi and I strained to hear what she said, but failed.

I dare say she’ll get round to telling me what she thinks some day soon. I just hope she’s not siding with the “phans” and bloggers, or we’ll be having a few frosty cornflakes for breakfast.

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