Ghostly triumph booked in for eternity

First Night: 'The Phantom of the Opera', Basel


Both the show and the business elements of showbusiness were played out here yesterday as Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's artistic colonisation of Europe moved on to a new plane.

Indeed, the plane was one of the more remarkable elements. A Crossair Saab 2000 aeroplane had its fuselage painted with the Phantom of the Opera logo and mask, dwarfing the Swiss flag. As it took off from Heathrow yesterday, the climax to the title track played through the cabin. The official carrier for the show in Basel, it will bring people from cities all over Europe with Phantom ticket hot lines already installed in Swiss and German airports.

Last night was the unveiling of the pounds 25m marble, steel and glass 1500- seat theatre that Basel businessmen and city fathers built solely to hand to Sir Andrew's Really Useful Group to boost the economy of the city. Sir Andrew's team will run the theatre and probably stage the Phantom of the Opera in perpetuity. Should that show ever close, he has an "on- going programming option" to replace it.

But it won't be closing for a while. Before last night's Swiss premiere, his staff said they had sold pounds 10m of advance tickets. And they didn't even have to pay for the pounds 150,000 banquet after the show. Basel's grateful businessmen coughed up.

The show part of showbusiness began earlier with a press conference in the city hall where the composer faced a bewildering mixture of lavish tributes and hostile questions.

First, Herr Uli Vischer, vice-president of Basle city government, said that Basel shared certain qualities with Britain including a tendency to under-statement. The vice-president then continued: "With all probability, Basel is honoured today by the most distinguished visit from the United Kingdom since Her Majesty the Queen was greeted here 15 years ago ... Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is the man who inspires, promotes and enlivens with his genius again and again."

But, he was asked, what do you say to a Swiss newspaper which calls your music a patchwork of other composers?"

"I say rubbish," replied Sir Andrew.

And what do you say to claims that you are the Mozart of today, asked another.

"I say rubbish," replied Sir Andrew again.

Then the normally shy composer began to discourse unusually freely. Asked if he would write with Sir Tim Rice again, he damned with conspicuously faint praise: "I don't think it's likely. He has his own career now as an occasional lyricist with Disney, and I don't think we're on the same wavelength now."

He tried to deter questions about profits from the show -which go to the Really Useful Group - saying he was merely a shareholder in the group. The holding was 70 per cent.

And he told how Phantom began. He bought a book of it for 50 cents at a New York bookstall, thought the story "a load of hokum" and handed it to the director, Hal Prince, who wanted to direct a romantic musical. When they did collaborate on it, Sir Andrew said yesterday, "There was a lot of love in it for me. I wrote the role of Christine for my then wife Sarah Brightman and a lot of passion went into it."

The show, performed in German with Hal Prince again directing, looked and sounded splendid. In December Sir Andrew takes over a new theatre in Frankfurt purpose-built for his Sunset Boulevard. Britain's passionate one-man export drive rolls on.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas