The Phantom of The Opera… a mystery never fully explained. Well, that may be so, but as one of the West End’s longest running shows it is safe to say that many will know what the musical is about. Even if the story is unknown, what is guaranteed are the lavish costumes, vast sets and songs which you will definitely have heard, intentionally or otherwise. If you are after drama and a spectacle then this is absolutely the right show.
As you walk in, you are faced with a stage full of dust covers, some covering the drapes and flourishes, some covering the ‘auction lots’. As the auction progresses, the famous chandelier is revealed and the organ notes which are perhaps the best known of all Andrew Lloyd Webber compositions fill the theatre. Her Majesty’s Theatre has housed this show from the beginning and very little has changed over the years, other than the cast.
The overture is used to recreate the Opera Populaire in all her grandeur, followed by a rehearsal scene where the characters are introduced. From the beginning the vocals are strong, both Carlotta (Fiona Finsbury) – the opera diva – and her long suffering, also rather dramatic partner Piangi (Jeremy Secomb), have some big notes. Christine Daae, played in this performance by Harriet Jones, also enters in style; her first number ‘Think Of Me’, ending in a tremendous cadenza. Jones played a very dreamy Christine, often appearing to have her mind elsewhere. This worked well for the character who is thought to be in a daydream the majority of the time. She sang well and seemed to have no trouble hitting the top notes. Her ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ was beautiful.
The absolute highlight, however, was Geronimo Rauch’s interpretation of the Phantom. Every time he sang, I found myself with goose-pimples. He was entirely believable, his vocals were sensational, and his portrayal was moving. It was clear to see how the voice of this stranger was so compelling to Christine, not to mention powerful and Rauch’s Phantom had the perfect balance of anger, resentment and sadness.
The ensemble moments were every bit as bright and tuneful as I remembered and hoped, and the corps de ballet, kept in check by Madame Giry (Jacinta Mulcahy) all danced superbly. Although all characters need to be strong singers, as there are many multiple part harmonies, I feel it is important that the Phantom is really special, with Christine and Carlotta a close second. They did not disappoint, with Raoul (Antony Hansen), also impressing, particularly during ‘All I Ask Of You’, and the owners of the theatre, Messieurs Firmin and Andre(Martin Ball and Andy Hockley) adding some humour to the proceedings.
For me, along with the wonderful score, part of what makes this show so incredible is the set. It just keeps on coming. For anyone who hasn’t seen it I don’t want to give too much away, but what starts out looking like a fairly compact stage seems to turn into a bottomless pit each time there is a scene change. I personally like the scenes in the vaults of the theatre (the Phantom’s hideaway) but ‘Masquerade’ is the most visually stunning.
Although The Phantom of the Opera has been running since 1986, the ‘Brilliant Original’ is so called for a reason. For me, this production never gets old, and I enjoy seeing each actor’s take on the eponymous character. The title, and the suggestion of opera may put people off, but I think this is a show everyone should experience at least once. I took a friend who had not experienced the show live before. Needless to say she was entranced, it moved her to tears and she thought it was one of the best things she had ever seen. I think, perhaps, that says it all.
Review by Naomi Stevens
The Phantom of the Opera is showing at Her Majesty’s Theatre