Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 West End and 1988 Broadway smash hit, The Phantom of the Opera, is as much an event as it is a musical play. If ever there was a must-see musical, it is Phantom.

Based on the 1910 horror/romance, Le Fantôme de l’opéra, by French horror and crime novelist Gaston Leroux (1868-1927), The Phantom of the Opera features a riveting book by Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe, marvelous music by Sir Andrew, sprightly lyrics by Charles Hart, and incisive additional lyrics by Stilgoe. The show is set backstage at the Paris Opera House in the 1860s and 1911.

The current Cameron Mackintosh/Really Useful Theatre Company, Inc. touring production, playing Raleigh Memorial Auditorium through May 18 as part of Broadway Series South, boasts a young and very, very talented cast and all the awesome scenery, magnificent period costumes, and eye-opening special effects and technical wizardry that have made Phantom an audience favorite since it debuted in London in 1986 and made its American premiere on Broadway in 1988.

Original director Harold Prince and original choreographer Gillian Lynne brilliantly recreate their award-winning work for the National Tour, which also features a brilliant production design by Maria Björnson, a terrific lighting design by Andrew Bridge, and a splendid sound design by Martin Levan. Musical director Glenn Langdon, who conducted the orchestra April 25, made Lloyd Webber’s soaring melodies soar even higher.

Broadway veteran Brad Little makes a marvelously expressive Phantom. He puts special feeling into his performance as the horribly disfigured musical and mechanical prodigy who haunts the Paris Opera House in the 1860s.

Rebecca Pitcher, an award-winning lyric coloratura, is splendid as soprano Christine Daaé, the sweetest Swedish nightingale since Jenny Lind and the increasingly nervous secret protégé of the mysterious “Angel of Music” (Phantom) who haunts the Paris Opera House.

Tim Martin Gleason is quite good as Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, a handsome and wealthy young opera patron who competes with The Phantom for Christine’s affections. David Cryer and D.C. Anderson provide comic relief as huffy Monsieurs Firmin and André, the new opera managers who foolishly ignore The Phantom’s demands.

Kim Stengel is a scream as temperamental zaftig prima donna Carlotta Giudicelli, whom The Phantom despises; and Frederic Heringes is hilarious as the egotistical overstuffed Italian tenor Ubaldo Piangi. Patti Davidson-Gorbea makes quite a vivid impression as the opera’s ballet mistress Madame Giry, who knows more about The Phantom than she should; and Kate Wray is very good as her daughter, Meg Giry. Marni Raab will play Christine Daaé at certain performances.

The National Tour of The Phantom of the Opera, which opened April 22 at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, features superlative singers equally adept at fleshing out their colorful characters and building and sustaining suspense in this classic beauty-and-the-beast story. If you have not seen Phantom — and even if you have — don’t miss this opportunity to see the show performed by an exceptionally talented touring cast.

Broadway Series South presents The Phantom of the Opera Tuesday-Friday, April 29-May 2, May 6-9, and May 13-16, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 3, 10, and 17, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 4, 11, and 18, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, NC. $20-$72. 919/834-4000 (Ticketmaster) or [inactive 12/03] or 919/231-4575 (groups of 20 or more). [inactive 4/04] or [inactive 6/03].