Ghostly Concoction

- Charles Hart

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Coffee was served, as I sat one bright afternoon in April ’86 in the Music Room on the fourth floor of the Palace Theatre, the regal décor bearing down on me with its full imposing weight. Opposite me sat Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh. My homework for the weekend had been to digest Gaston Leroux’s little known thriller, The Phantom of the Opera.

The project (already well under way) was to stage the novel as a musical. What contribution, they asked, did I feel I could make to the venture? I embarked on an uneasy essay in self-promotion.

As tea-time arrived, I wondered whether any would-be lyricist had ever before been auditioned for a job. I was currently undergoing what actors term a “re-call”. Having already submitted specimens of my work, I was now “reading for the part”. My tremulous hand had long since given up its embarrassing struggle with the coffee cup, when the composer, with every kind intention, topped up my cup with tea. What could I say? Flustered, I downed the resultant cocktail.

From the months that followed, I have retained a wealth of indelible memories: a first glimpse of Maria Björnson’s astonishing sets in model form, illuminated by a one-man rendition-cum-resumé from director, Hal Prince; the first terrifying vision of a newspaper advertisement crediting me with a libretto which, at the time, I had barely begun; a weekend of solitary industry in George Abbott’s office twenty-four storeys above the New York traffic……

There have been many others, but I will always look back with particular affection to the bizarre admixture of tea and coffee.

Charles Hart
September 1986