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Sarah Brightman Talks Hollywood Walk of Fame Star, Las Vegas Mini-Residency and the Enduring Power of ‘Phantom’

Variety logo Variety 10/5/2022 Mark Sutherland

Sarah Brightman’s 40-year singing career has brought her global acclaim. But, the British star says, what she’s best known for varies according to where she is in the world.

“In China, they know me far more for my later recorded work and not necessarily for ‘Phantom of the Opera,’” she tells Variety. “I’ve worked with very famous artists in Japan. And, in the last two years, I’ve even become well-known in France, which has always been quite a difficult market to penetrate. It’s great – it’s like you’re a new person in each city you go to…”

Brightman’s American persona will be in the spotlight when the soprano is awarded her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Oct. 6, presented for her contributions to live theater and live performance.

“It’s a real honor,” she says. “Especially as I don’t come from America. It’s always lovely when another country observes what you’ve done and wants to show their appreciation for it.”

In contrast, Brightman says she can often go unrecognized in her native United Kingdom.

“I have a lot of freedom,” she says, speaking from London. “I’ve lived two lives in parallel. In one, I’m in Los Angeles getting a star on the Walk of Fame, but just the day before, I was doing very normal things in this country. I just get on the train like everyone else. When I’m here, it’s almost like living the life I did before all this started.”

“All this” began in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Brightman joined dance troupe Pan’s People and its successor, Hot Gossip.

Sarah Brightman in 1985. © Provided by Variety Sarah Brightman in 1985.

“I knew I had a great gift in my voice,” she says. “But I was still very young and it wasn’t time for that to come to fruition. So, all the time I was doing Hot Gossip, I was training my voice, because that was what I wanted to end up doing.”

Indeed, Brightman went from dancing on weekly British chart show “Top of the Pops” to releasing her own disco singles, before a move into musical theater.

She won a part in “Cats” and later married its composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, who cast her as Christine Daaé in both the original London and New York productions of “The Phantom of the Opera.” She was nearly prevented from taking up the 1988 Broadway role by the American Actors’ Equity Association’s ruling that she was not enough of an international star to warrant taking the part from an American performer. “I still don’t fully understand it,” she laughs now of the fuss. “I felt totally disassociated from it, but yet it was me that it was about.”

Eventually a compromise was reached, and the show became such a smash hit that it has played ever since (save for a suspension during the pandemic), becoming Broadway’s longest running show ­– although it will finally end its run on February 18, 2023.

“Everybody involved was truly great at their task, but that doesn’t mean everything,” she remembers of the original production. “It can still go wrong — but it worked right from the beginning and that’s because people felt the spirit of it. Everybody somehow identifies with the characters and the love story; it’s very personal and that’s its secret.

“It’s not going to be a piece that disappears,” she adds. “It’s like a little jewel — and it’s a jewel that will shine for many years to come.”

Brightman has not starred in a stage musical since Lloyd Webber’s “Aspects of Love” in the early 1990s (the couple divorced in 1990), preferring to concentrate on a recording career that has seen over 25 million albums sold and is often credited with creating the classical crossover genre via songs such as “Pie Jesu” and “Time to Say Goodbye.”

“I don’t believe anybody invents anything,” she laughs. “It always comes from something in the past. It’s about leaving — if you can — some sort of legacy for other, younger artists to learn by.

“Friends who are teaching have said to me, ‘It’s amazing how many young women have come to us and said it was ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and Sarah Brightman that made them want to learn classical music or work in musicals.’ Hearing those things is an absolute delight.”

Brightman will revisit all eras of her music career during her new Las Vegas show, “A Starlight Symphony,” which will run at the Venetian from Oct. 12 to 15 and then play dates in Mexico. Brightman promises the show will be “quite mystical and mysterious and slightly Gothic — but in an easy way, nothing heavy!”

Brightman is no stranger to the big stage — she has performed at two Olympics, Barcelona ’92 and Beijing ’08 (“The Chinese really raised the bar on how an opening ceremony could look”), as well as numerous international tours. But she says her own personal career highlights have usually been “little achievements — when an audience is really entranced and enjoying what you’re doing; it’s not on film — they’re just in that moment, experiencing it.”

And, as she looks back at her career ahead of the Walk of Fame and Vegas, she notably does not rule out a return to where it all began: the more intimate world of the theater.

“It would depend on what it was,” she muses. “Because my career has been so full-on, I haven’t ventured into that world for a while. Hopefully if your career is good and you’re still singing, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t do something like that. Never say never!”

Watch a stream of the ceremony below:

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