The West End's second longest-running musical, The Phantom of the Opera, will get two new leads as an early 18th birthday present. From Monday 6 September 2004 – a month ahead of its anniversary milestone on 9 October - Rachel Barrell and Oliver Thornton will join the cast as lovers Christine and Raoul.

Barrell was most recently seen in Thoroughly Modern Millie, while Thornton’s West End credits include Enjolras in Les Miserables and Chicago.

Other newcomers to the Phantom cast on 6 September will be Sally Harrison, formerly with English National Opera and Scottish Opera and now making her West End theatre debut as Carlotta, Rohan Tickell as Piangi and Claire Tilling as Meg.

John Owen-Jones continues in the title role, while others remaining in the current company include Richard Hazell (Monsieur Firmin), Sam Hiller (Monsieur Andre) and Heather Jackson (Madame Giry). Katie Knight-Adams will also stay on to play Christine at certain performances.

The Phantom of the Opera opened at Her Majesty's Theatre in October 1986. In 1999, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, based on Gaston Leroux's gothic novel about a masked man who falls in love with an ingénue singer at the Paris Opera House, was named as the 20th century's most successful money-making show, dwarfing even Hollywood rivals like Titanic at the box office. Worldwide, it has grossed over £1.6 billion.

In 2002, the Cameron Mackintosh production received a special Laurence Olivier audience award for most popular long-running West End show. It is currently booking until the end of December 2004.

- by Terri Paddock