After more than 32 years in the West End, The Phantom of the Opera continues to sound marvellous. Actually, it sounds even better these days, as it’s a relative rarity, mostly for commercial reasons, for shows to boast an orchestra of twenty-seven members (aside from the London Musical Theatre Orchestra, whose performances are one-off specials in concert format). ‘POTO’, as some of its fans and followers refer to it on social media, has become, over the years, a production without compare. Even if what sounded innovative in 1986 doesn’t always sound quite as ground-breaking at the end of 2017.
There’s been a tendency – no names mentioned – to play some of the characters in The Phantom of the Opera with a tad too much melodrama, picked up on in parody numbers like ‘The Song That Goes Like This’ in Spamalot. This 2017/18 cast does not, thankfully, distract from the narrative with mannerisms or hammy performances, making this revisit to a much loved musical an absorbing experience, even when one already knows what is going to happen, and to whom.
Ben Lewis in the title role has a suitably booming voice, at its best in the lyrics that require considerable power. Those pronouncements about “a disaster beyond your imagination” are convincing, and overall, his performance is flawless. Jeremy Taylor’s Raoul has considerable stage presence, and a palpable sense of urgency when he sets about executing his plan of action against the ever-scheming Phantom.
Jacina Mulcahy’s Madame Giry, meanwhile, cuts an almost terrifying choreographer of the Opera Populaire in Paris, a formidable leader not to be messed around with. It amazes me that the production comes up with Madame Girys over the years that look exactly the same as each other.
(Although it shouldn’t, on reflection, surprise me at all. It’s called makeup.) And the dulcet tones of Philip Griffiths as the Auctioneer right at the start of the show are impeccable: after twenty-seven years in the show – and counting – Griffiths remains superb.
It’s the girl, Christine Daaé (Amy Manford) that both the Phantom and Raoul prize, which sounds a tad misogynistic, except to say (spoiler alert) the choice is ultimately hers. Manford’s singing vocal is sublime, at the right pitch and at the right volume, quite an achievement in a role that could (and indeed has) been done with too much belting. Performers playing Christine aren’t entirely to blame for this, especially when they have the Phantom in their faces repeatedly yelling, “Sing for me!” The chemistry between Manford’s Christine and Taylor’s Raoul was credible and pleasing to see.
There was even a scintilla of a smile going on, which isn’t always the case with Miss Daaé. The character’s emotions are highly discernible – the lack of confidence, for instance, when she is invited to audition for a leading part for the first time, demonstrates vulnerability; later, when she and Raoul sing the magnificent number ‘All I Ask of You’, it’s almost impossible not to be impressed by the intensity of the warmth between them. In Act Two, Christine’s ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ is utterly delightful.
Manford puts in an engaging performance playing a tortured young woman under pressure, soliciting sympathy from the audience. Such a controlled and nuanced interpretation added depth to the production as a whole, and every high note was, in a word, impeccable. Enchanting as ever, The Phantom of the Opera remains vibrant and beautiful, and in fine form.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Now in its 32nd glorious year, The Phantom of the Opera continues to mesmerise and entrance audiences at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London and around the world.
The Phantom of the Opera
Her Majesty’s Theatre