I have a confession to make. For a long time I had no interest in Phantom of the Opera. I got the impression it was a bit pretentious and old fashioned but honestly I hadn’t given it a chance. Sitting there in Her Majesty’s Theatre, I was completely overwhelmed by the vibrance and beauty of the whole production. I wasn’t expecting the music to affect me in this way but there were so many moments where I found myself breathless, completely entranced by what was happening on stage.
Having run for 30 years, the real test of whether the current production lives up to its reputation and legacy is the central three characters, Raoul, Christine and the Phantom. Celinde Schoemaker was angelic as the doe-eyed Christine, belting out those incredible ascending sequences in the title number, though she did spend a lot of singing time facing away from the audience. She is a seasoned leading lady from her role as Fantine in Les Mis, and, although I’m a Phantom newbie, she seemed to fit right into what a good Christine should be, exceptionally talented yet meek and innocent.
Raoul, Christine’s childhood sweetheart, was played by Nadim Naaman. He gave an honest and solid performance as the good-natured viscount vying for Christine’s love. Celinde and Nadim’s “All I Ask of You”, up on the roof of the Opera House, was one of the most emotional and beautiful songs in the entire show.
The sweet character of Raoul starkly contrasts with that of the Phantom, played by Ben Forster. His performance was certainly dramatic, switching between different extremes from his obsessive control over Christine to the despair about his monstrous appearance. At times it felt too much and almost cringey but for the most part I thought he gave the Phantom a deep and complex character. His extravagance was really fun to watch and I’m really curious about Ben’s performances in his past productions like Elf and Jesus Christ Superstar. I wasn’t completely convinced by the chemistry between Christine and the Phantom, one minute it was passionate, the next it just felt a bit limp.
I enjoyed the scenes with supporting characters such as the primadonna, Carlotta (Megan Llewellyn), and the double act of theatre managers, Firmin and André (Michael Matus and Christopher Dickins); they provided relief from the otherwise really intense central love triangle. However these scenes were incredibly busy due to so many characters being on the stage; concentrate on one character’s reaction and you might miss something else important going on, it’s definitely a show that you could see again and again but notice something new every time. Sometimes this worked in their favour, I found “Masquerade” to be spellbinding through all the beautiful costumes and the magnificent choreography on the staircase, but sometimes it felt like an attack on the senses, especially in the opening scene.
Phantom was an absolute delight to watch; it is so rich with detail from the gorgeous masquerade ball to the candlelit boat trip to the Phantom’s lair. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is what makes this show special though, it’s the sort that seems to fill your whole body with sound and emotion. I loved the gothic splendour of the staging, the whole atmosphere felt so grand and romantic. Phantom of the Opera is a fantastic show and I would highly recommend going to see this piece of West End history!
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