It is undeniably a masterpiece and it’s a classic show that only Les Miserables – which opened in the same season, funnily enough – has ever been able to match in success and lasting power (but even then, Phantom has lasted on Broadway for almost 30 years now, while Les Miz is preparing to shutter its second Broadway revival in September). But all these years on and all these cast changes later, what is it that keeps the wheels of this juggernaut musical turning? A recent return visit a few weeks back gave me the answer to just that.
It’s no secret that the show’s original director Hal Prince revisits the show very regularly to make sure it’s in good shape and that kind of hands-on attention from a director all these years later has a fantastic affect on a show, clearly. It’s also wonderful to always see such perfect casting choices as well: Ben Forster, who is probably most famous for winning the ITV talent show Superstar a few years back which meant he landed the role of Jesus in the 2012 JCS arena tour, is the most recent talent to assume the title role. While I’m not the biggest fan of him personally, his talent is undeniable and he is actually a fantastic fit for the role giving a gorgeous performance from both a vocal and an acting perspective. Les Miz-alum Celinde Schoenmaker takes on the role of Christine alternating with the delightful Emmi Christensson and also gives a wonderful portrayl, not my favourite performance of Christine that I’ve seen so far, but definitely one of the most vocally moving. Other stellar cast members include Nadim Naaman as Raoul, Jacinta Mulcahy as Madame Giry and Megan Llewelyn as Carlotta, which is a role that I always think is just fantastic fun.
The show itself is something that is never any less than perfect as well and listening to the score alone is worth the ticket price. I fell in love with the score at a very young age and it was one of the first musical theatre albums I ever listened to, but still all these years later – be it listening to it on cassette, vinyl, CD or on my phone – hearing it live in Her Majesty’s is an aural experience like no other. It is a true masterpiece of music and the whole moment when the chandelier rises at the top of the show reduces me to a tear in my eye each and every time.
That’s another thing that never ceases to amaze me with this show: the set. Like I said before, Hal Prince has made sure the show hasn’t changed very majorly at all over the past 30 years, so it’s fascinating to think that all of these stage effects were possible back in the 80s. The entire title song sequence is fantastic to watch with the multiple Christine and Phantom couples running across those bridges that ascend and descend across the back of the stage, as well as the magic that the chandelier can do and the beautiful, ornate architecture that frames the stage as well.
Whether it’s your first time seeing the show or your fifth, The Phantom of the Opera continues to be one of the best things that the West End has to offer. It’s a story full of heart and thrill paired with a gorgeous score and a fascinating design element. This show is the perfect recipe for a timeless, West End masterpiece.