Five years ago, she was all but written off, but Sarah Brightman has made a stunning comeback. She and her stunning lyric soprano voice arrive at Radio City Music Hall on Saturday, on the second leg of a 42-city tour. She's achieved a world-wide success no one could have imagine, with "La Luna," her latest Angel CD, about to hit the Platinum sales mark (one million copies).

In 1988, Brightman was pushed centerstage on Broadway by then-husband Andrew Lloyd Webber (they divorced in 1990). She was the source of contention in a bitter war waged by him and Actors Equity. ALW ultimately prevailed, and Brightman repeated her West End role as Christine, the angel of music, in The Phantom of the Opera. Then, as fast as her star rose, it waned. But Brightman didn't stand still. She made things happen. Reinventing herself, she created a new niche as a classical crossover artist. Her CDs "Time To Say Goodbye" and "Eden" boast huge numbers worldwide, and her concerts are sell-outs.

Brightman's stage show, transported by five 18-wheel rigs and two buses, attracts an amazing cross section of audiences - including dozens of "La Lunatics" -- female and male costumed look-alikes. Onstage, she goes beyond her renditions of pop and classical-as-pop and pulls out all the stops a la a rock concert -- albeit one with a full orchestra and rock band. Singing in five languages and making countless costume changes, Brightman even performs on a flying trapeze. The show boasts dancers, back-up vocalists, extravagant sets (including a giant candelabra), concert lighting, visual effects, even fireworks.
Brightman bounces from traditional classics, such as "Scarborough Fair," her timeless "Pie Jesu" from Lloyd Webber's "Requiem" and selections from POTO to adaptations of Beethoven and Dvorak. She closes with what's become her signature hit, "Time To Say Goodbye" (originally a duet with Andrea Bocelli). In stark contrast to the classical arias, there're more than a share of ear-shattering ones.

Sarah Brightman wasn't discovered by her famous ex. She'd been acting, singing and dancing since age 13, when she was cast in the chorus of Cats on the West End. In 1988, when she was finally able to bring her Christine to Broadway, Brightman was coolly received and denied a Tony Award nomination as Best Actress in a Musical. Jump forward to 1991 and the waning days on Broadway of ALW's Aspects of Love when she was brought in to induce box office. But the POTO magic didn't repeat itself, and the show abruptly closed.

Many wrote Brightman off, but she didn't stand still and wait for something to happen. "Others had created everything I'd done. I was never allowed to be myself. I wanted to create something from my own thoughts and instincts. I didn't want to set any rules. I knew it would be a challenge but that it would be exciting."

She studied music in Italy and relocated to homes in Spain and Germany. With her new partner, Frank Peterson, as producer, she attacked pop with a vengeance. She had two modestly successful CDs. Then she and Peterson struck gold with their idea of mixing classical with pop and rock.
"Pop music was instinctive and natural to me," notes Brightman, who pre-West End was lead vocalist of a 70s pop group that had chart hits in the U.K. "I grew up in the '60s, so I was comfortable with rock. We did a lot of experimenting, but with it I discovered such a sense of freedom."

Doing several shows a week in huge arenas and performing arts centers is demanding on her voice, but, says Brightman, "My classical training has been immensely helpful. I wish I'd had more of it before I began singing pop. I always thought I'd go back; however, with Cats, things happened so fast that everything got interrupted. In the end, it's all worked out well, because if I'd had too much classical training, my phrasing would be wrong for what I'm doing. I became comfortable, vocally, doing theater and classical, but I never forgot my pop style."

Is there more theater in Brightman's future? "They say, `never say never,'" she says, "but I've sort of lost interest in musicals. I don't go to the theater and don't buy cast albums. I couldn't tell you what's on the West End and Broadway. I feel what I'm doing [the elaborate concerts] is an extension of my stage work. Theater wouldn't be out of the question if something interesting and fresh came along."

Part of Brightman's U.S. popularity has been built with specials on PBS, which soon will rebroadcast her "La Luna" TV concert to tie-in with its release on DVD and VHS. In addition, on April 4, Bravo airs a one-hour profile.

[After New York, Brightman's "La Luna" dates included Albany (3/26/02), Boston (3/27/02), Trenton (3/29/02), Pittsburgh (3/30/02) and Cincinnati (3/31/02). The tour winds down to Florida, ending in Miami (4/4). Later this year, she heads to Asia.]



Key Subjects: 
Sarah Brightman; Andrew Lloyd Webber, Phantom of the Opera, Cats, La Luna
Ellis Nassour
Writer Bio: 
Ellis Nassour contributes entertainment features here and abroad. He is the author of "Rock Opera: the Creation of Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline," and an associate editor and a contributing writer (film, music, theater) to Oxford University Press' American National Biography (1999).