Lloyd Webber's Phantom and Cats set for school stages

US high school production of Phantom of the Opera by County College of Morris in New Jersey A US high school production of Phantom of the Opera by County College of Morris in New Jersey

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Two of Andrew Lloyd Webber's most famous musicals - Phantom Of The Opera and Cats - are being made available for school and college productions in the UK and Ireland.

Within a few hours of the announcement being made on Wednesday, Lord Lloyd-Webber's Really Useful Group said it had been inundated with enquiries from schools and universities.

The composer said he was "delighted" that young performers would be able to tackle the works, which date back to the 1980s, for the first time.

The licensing announcement comes as Phantom of the Opera approaches its 25th anniversary.

Original star Michael Crawford (l) with composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (r) Michael Crawford (l) starred in the original Phantom production, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber (r)

The Really Useful Group said it marks the start of a roll-out of all of Lord Lloyd-Webber's major musicals to education and amateur markets worldwide.

These shows will include Whistle Down the Wind and Starlight Express.

Lord Lloyd-Webber said: "One of the first pieces I wrote was Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was originally written for a school. Later it was expanded to be a full-length stage show but I still get a kick out of seeing it performed in the way it began over 40 years ago."

He added: "No way was either Cats or The Phantom Of The Opera written for schools, even if TS Eliot did write his brilliant cat poems for his godchildren.

'Grass roots'

"But such is the extraordinary growth of interest in musicals at grass root level all over the world, plus the astonishing capabilities of our younger performers, that now schools, colleges and amateur societies put on productions that give professionals a huge run for their money."

Some 200 licences for Phantom have already been granted to high schools in the US and Canada.

Mark Wordsworth, chairman of the Really Useful Group, said: "They are complicated shows, but the experience that we've had in America is that the schools are absolutely up for the challenge.

Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom in a scene from the Phantom of the Opera sequel Love Never Dies Phantom of the Opera spawned a sequel, Love Never Dies, which recently closed in the West End

"Because they are such big works they can involve a lot of the kids in creating the scenery as well as performing in the show."

The versions for UK and Irish schools, he said, would be identical to the professional productions.

"Andrew was very keen that anybody who performed Phantom got the opportunity to do the whole thing as opposed to a dumbed down version of it."

Phantom of the Opera first opened at Her Majesty's Theatre in London in October 1986 with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman in the leading roles.

The West End production reached its 10,000th performance in October 2010.

Shows already available on licence from the Really Useful Group include By Jeeves, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, The Likes of Us and Sunset Boulevard.

Originally written for performance in schools over 40 years ago, Joseph has been a regular fixture in amateur productions, especially primary schools.

In 2007 it was estimated that the show had been performed in 20,000 schools and local theatres, with nearly 500 productions each year in the UK.

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