A man in a mask set to an iconic overture. Dwelling in the picturesque theatre that is Her Majesty's it can only be Andrew Lloyd Webber's masterpiece that is Phantom of the Opera (mind you, you ought to avoid Box No 5 if booking a trip to see it soon). Since opening on 9 October 1986, the audiences have been attending in their droves - three Olivier's have been won thus far, and it is now the second-longest running show in the West End.
The stage is set in a dusty, gloomy auction house, where various artefacts from the Paris Opera House are on sale - amongst them, a music box and a large chandelier. We are then transported back in time to the heydey of the Opera House, where rehearsals are in full swing. However, it isn't long before the Opera Ghost makes his first appearance and lives end up being changed irreversibly as a result. A love triangle soon follows, and tension builds as the act goes on before culminating in dramatic and spectacular fashion.
Act Two starts with a masquerade ball which is truly magical, and the end of which coincides with the ominous reappearance of the Phantom. As the story builds to its emotive conclusion, more is revealed about the Phantom himself, and only then do we start to understand the enigma that is the man behind the mask. The set is designed so that one can be seamlessly transported from the auction room to the elegance of the opera house, and further onwards to the dank darkness of the catacombs beneath Paris. Dry ice and pyrotechnics are also used alluring and adding to the heightened air of mystery and suspense at key points.
Many famous names have taken on the key roles within the production, including John Owen Jones, Michael Crawford and Ramin Karimloo in the eponymous part, Sarah Brightman and Sierra Boggess as the young protégée Christine Daaé, and Michael Ball as Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny - the third person in the triangle. The current Phantom is Ben Forster, who acts the role extremely well. Special mention must be made of the standby, Scott Davies, whose soaring tone manages to bring out the Phantom's anguished yet deeply sensitive side. He manages to portray the pain that the seductive Phantom is made up of, a tortured and ugly face beneath the mask. Brava, Mr Davies. Also of note are the performances of Celinde Schoenmaker as Christine and Nadim Naaman as Raoul - both are stellar in what is ultimately a story of deep and sometimes unrequited love.
Over thirty years have passed since opening night, yet the Phantom is still capable of bewitching and bewildering the viewer, with plenty of twists and turns and some wonderful effects, all set to a soaring and beguiling score featuring tender ballads, operatic arias and dramatic organ pieces. It truly deserves its place on the West End stage, and will almost surely continue to play for quite some time. It is - quite literally Phantastic.
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