The Phantom of the Opera, now in its 30th year at (the divine) Her Majesty's Theatre, is a real classic, and a staple show for all theatre enthusiasts. Its music, scored by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is the life of the show, and it is absolutely enchanted. I had promised myself that I would not use that one used-to-death pun in this review, but I can't help myself: the show was phantastic.
The Phantom of the Opera, for those of you who don't know the show, follows the story of Christine Daaé (Celinde Schoenmaker) and a mysterious Opera Ghost and musical genius (Ben Forster). The Phantom's obsession with Christine intensifies as she falls in love with another man, Raoul (Nadim Naaman), and the whole opera house becomes involved in a tangled tale of romance, illusion, and music.
The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of the Opera is an extremely engaging show. From start to finish, we are drawn into the emotions of the principal characters, and kept just slightly tense. The general ambience of the show is fantastic, with enough variety to keep ther audience interested throughout.
The pace of Phantom is also extremely impressive. The songs don't drag at all; if you know the music, you will find yourself looking forward to each of the songs, and will discover that they are always over too fast. This is the case from the very start (in fact, the opening of the show may be my favourite bit of it altogether), when a chandelier in unveiled that kick-starts the story whilst the orchestra bursts into one of the most well-known scores in musical theatre.
There is enough humour in The Phantom of the Opera to make it not too intense. This mainly comes from characters such as Carlotta (Megan Llewellyn), Piagni (John Ellis), Monsieur Firmin (Michael Matus) and Monsieur André (Christopher Dickens), who are never on the stage without boosting the atmosphere of the show.
In terms of casting, I am going to be controversial and say that I wasn't completely bowled-over by Ben Forster's portrayal of the Phantom. His singing was flawless, but his acting came across as a tiny bit over-the-top at times, and almost petulant. He didn't very strongly portray the Phantom as an intense, powerful, mysterious man; the softer side of the character was played on more heavily, which I wasn't sure quite worked.
The character of Christine is usually played in one of two ways: she is either the timid ingénue, with a soft voice and tender actions; or, she is slightly stronger, more passionate, and not afraid to really belt her songs. I don't think that one way is any better than the other; it simply changes the chemistry of the show slightly. Celinde Schoenmaker played the stronger Christine: there was still a timid side to the character but, overall, she came across as determined, and quite grounded. Schoenmaker portrayed this extremely well, with an exceptionally strong singing voice, and I really could not flaw her performance.
The chemistry between Raul (Nadim Naaman) and Christine (Schoenmaker) was very strong. Naaman played a convincing Raul, with a lovely voice and real conviction in his acting. I really believed the character.
My personal “unsung hero” of The Phantom of the Opera has to be Carlotta, played by the wonderful Megan Llewellyn. She is a superb character, and Llewellyn played her with apparent ease and enjoyment. It was a pleasure to watch her whenever she was on stage, and she brought a lot of light-heartedness to an otherwise quite heavy show.
Similarly, Piangi (John Ellis), Monsieur Firmin (Michael Matus) and Monsieur André (Christopher Dickens) were a lot of fun, and all performed with just the right amount of energy and humour.
Meg Giry (Alicia Beck) and Madame Giry (Jacinta Mulcahy) did an admirable job at holding a lot of the show together. Mulcahy was particularly good at not playing a two-dimensional Madame Giry and, instead, giving the character some real depth. Beck played Meg Giry extremely well, with a stunning voice and compelling acting.
I am of the very strong opinion that The Phantom of the Opera is, by a long way, Andrew Lloyd Webber's best show. The music is unrivalled by any of his other scores and, performed by an absolutely first-class orchestra, the power of the score is really something else.
There are a lot of moments within Phantom when several different threads of music come together so wonderfully that you cannot avoid getting goosebumps. You will leave the show singing a few memorable bars from each of the different songs, and will probably find that you drift from song to song without really realising it, as the songs all link together so intrinsically.
Her Majesty's Theatre is relatively small for such a big show. It sits around 1,200 (compared to almost double that number in the London Coliseum, where Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard is currently playing). Despite this, the staging of The Phantom of the Opera includes: a staircase, for one scene, which takes up most of the stage; a huge monument; an elephant (not a real one, for the record); a boat; lots of dancers; several trapdoors and suchlike for timely disappearances; impressive effects (including lots of fire); moving bridges … need I go on? There is this, and so much more, all crammed onto a stage that is really not altogether huge – the effect is a delicious sort of organised chaos.
The lighting of the show is art in itself; combine this with mist, a score that is growing in intensity, and a boat, and you find yourself with the reason for the title song of Phantom being so iconic. The costume, equally, is stunning and intricate – and, of course, includes the Phantom's mask, which is just fabulous.
And the chandelier... Without meaning to ruin the surprise for anybody who hasn't seen the show, let me just say that the “accident” is spectacular, as is the opening of the show, in which the chandelier is first unveiled. Both moments will leave you buzzing.
Would Most People Enjoy It? ★★
I adore The Phantom of the Opera, but it is quite intensive; I certainly wouldn't expect everybody to enjoy it. However, if you see the film version of Phantom and think that it is even mediocre, you will fall head-over-heels in love with the stage production. But I would say that it is worth seeing the film first, because it is quite a niche show.
The show recommends audience members being 10+, but I would probably say that younger audiences might not enjoy the show as much as, perhaps, teenagers and above.
The “Wow” Factor ★★★★★
The Phantom of the Opera will “wow” you even if you don't particularly engage with the show (which you will, if you like the film). The music and the staging put together creates something that is beyond spectacular – in particular, the start and the end of the show are definite “wow” moments. They really will leave you breathless.
If you haven't seen Phantom, you really need to. If you have seen it, you need to see it again, because you just can't see it too many times. It's one of those shows – a classic through and through. I don't expect that The Phantom of the Opera will be heading out of London any time soon, so there really is no excuse for not seeing this (I'm going to do it again) phantastic production. Don't miss out.
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