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Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, 'The Phantom of the Opera' plans a special weekend show

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera" will celebrate its 25th anniversary this weekend with a lavish birthday party that will certainly involve someone swinging from a chandelier.

Producers will broadcast on Sunday a live performance of the show from London's 5,500-seat Royal Albert Hall to movie houses in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, Canada, Japan and Australia. The live performance — one of three shows at the hall — will be followed by rebroadcasts to cinemas on Oct. 5, 6 and 11.

"To celebrate such an extraordinary event as 25 years, we wanted to do something special, above and beyond just another gala performance," producer Cameron Mackintosh said in an interview from London. "We both thought that the most theatrical space with a number of seats was the Royal Albert Hall."

Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess, who co-starred in the "Phantom" sequel "Love Never Dies" in London, will reunite for the special production. More than 200 original and current cast members, musicians and special guests are expected to make appearances at the Royal Albert Hall.

In the U.S., the broadcast will be available on 500 screens in 43 states, from Alaska to West Virginia. It will also be released in the UK on DVD, CD and Blu-ray starting in November and in the U.S. in 2012.

The show's original director, Hal Prince, who has directed or produced more than 50 musicals, plays and operas, including "Damn Yankees," ''West Side Story," ''Fiddler on the Roof," ''Cabaret," ''A Little Night Music" and "Sweeney Todd," thinks "Phantom" touched a need.

"It's more escapist than certainly anything I've ever worked on," he says. "The audience has all these stressful problems and they buy a ticket and go into a theatre and lose themselves in another world entirely — and a romantic one. I think that's probably cause for its longevity."

The musical first opened on London's West End at the 1,200-seat Her Majesty's Theatre on Oct. 9, 1986, with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman in the lead roles. It's still there, more than 10,000 performances later.

It crossed the Atlantic and opened on Broadway on Jan. 26, 1988, and has clocked more than 9,800 performances, becoming the Great White Way's longest-running show ever. There have been dozens of productions worldwide, including current ones in Budapest, Hungary, Las Vegas and Kyoto, Japan, and one is planned next year in South Africa.

It has played to over 130 million people in 27 countries and has grossed over $5.6 billion worldwide — more than any film in history, including "Avatar," ''Titanic," ''Gone With the Wind" and "Star Wars."

Even a 2004 film version — directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson and Miranda Richardson — didn't slow the appetite for the masked, scarred man.

Mackintosh says the unstoppable success of the show was not so apparent to him or Lloyd Webber a quarter-century ago. "Nobody in their right mind in the theatre can ever expect for it. They pray for a successful opening night and a decent run. So the kind of staggering statistics that the show has garnered over the years is just extraordinary," he says. "Both of us are grinning like Cheshire cats."

Based on a novel by Gaston Leroux, "Phantom" tells the story of a deformed composer who haunts the Paris Opera House and falls madly in love with an innocent young soprano, Christine. Lloyd Webber's lavish songs include "Masquerade," ''Angel of Music," ''All I Ask of You," ''The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Music of the Night."

"Phantom" was one of four megahits — including "Cats," ''Les Miserables" and "Miss Saigon" — that Mackintosh produced over a span of just eight years in the 1980s and 1990s, something he credits with "incredibly good luck."

"It's never happened before and who knows if it will happen again. It's just amazing," he says. "It certainly won't happen again for me."

Prince, 83, won't be in London for the special performance — he's simply too busy. He directing a new musical, "Prince of Broadway," which celebrates his career and has co-direction and choreography from Susan Stroman, a book by David Thompson and music by Jason Robert Brown.

"I get a lot of energy working on something new," Prince says,

But he plans to be in New York when "Phantom" hits 25 years on Broadway — in just a year and a half. "Oh, sure. You bet," he says.



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