It all started when I watched a rather strange, dramatic pop video. Sarah Brightman’s voice was captivating and impressive, as she seemed so small and thin. But most of all I was enthralled by the figure of The Phantom. The video attempted to encapsulate the whole show, sort of, in four minutes. A show at the theatre, a magical world, which excluded those who could never hope to afford it… at least that’s what I thought at the time. Enter 2010, and a close friend looking for her favourite thing to do as part of her hen night, Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London. At last I would get to see the real show.
If you buy stall tickets and rope in nine of your friends for the afternoon matinee, you can get a bargain group price. I had some preconceived ideas as I had seen the 2004 film. I love all the songs, the music and the powerful lyrics. I sat in the dark theatre with anticipation. There was only one big grey mass on the stage, obviously to have the juxtaposition of the big reveal. As the first few chords of the Phantom of the Opera resounded all around us and the stage lit up; it was spectacular. As the players filled the stage, I kept my eyes open for Christine and any sign of The Phantom. I found the new owners’ performances to be even more over-dramatised and comical than in the film. I laughed a lot. Rebecca Lock had a wonderful comic presence as Carlotta Giudicelli, nearly stealing the limelight from the foppish owners.
I was still waiting for The Phantom, David Shannon, (as of June), and was slightly worried that he would have a classical voice, rather than a seemingly untrained one that suggests lone genius. Andrew Lloyd-Webber has always insisted that he should have a rocky edge, hence the choice of Steve Harley for the pop video. In the theatre, The Phantom’s voice reverberated around us and it was a deep captivating speaking voice, with a hint of vulnerability. It carried profound emotion supported by his brilliant acting. I felt sorry for The Phantom – Anti-hero No. 1. During his performance, his trembling awkward fingers, and crying in a heap on the floor were heartbreaking. Shannon really delivered.
I had been told that the sets would be impressive and that not many shows could compete. The staging for the title song was wonderful. Candelabras came out of the floor slowly, illuminating the stage, as they appeared to glide towards us in the gondola. It was done seamlessly and entirely convincingly. One found it hard to know where to place the eyes. It’s such an iconic show, the mask, the gondola scene, the chandelier and nothing surpasses seeing it live.
I have never been a fan of Raoul, played by Simon Bailey, mainly because I’ve not found his attentions to Christine particularly convincing. The dynamics of her love for Raoul and her infatuation with the man she believes to be an angel of music has to be convincing and balanced. By the end of the show I wasn’t entirely satisfied that it was. Bailey was a good standard Raoul, but there was none of the energy, passion and chemistry that there was when she was with The Phantom. At one point Raoul appeared to wipe his mouth after having kissed Christine, unintentionally perhaps, yet this did interrupt the power of an otherwise good performance. However, there was no need for him to hide his classically trained voice and his duet for All I Ask of You sounded wonderful, but lacked a sign of love on his side that needed to be present to carry the song. Gina Beck once more was excellent.
The staging of every piece was so cleverly done. It was hard to see how they achieved it. All the settings were beautiful. I was especially looking forward to The Music of the Night, as it’s one of my all time favourite songs. He sung it brilliantly.
A moment when I felt like we were in the cheap seats was the end of the first act. The hiding Phantom was lowered, on a huge gold angel, sat astride its wings. He stood up to sing, and they pulled him up! Only those in the upper boxes got to see this, but we could hear him. There were other moments like this, when he appears, as if to haunt the theatre the audience sit in, which we obviously missed. This combined with the sheer distance between our seats and the stage may well have affected the impact of all the performances.
After the intermission, it was straight into Masquerade. I’d wondered how they would be able to accomplish the scope of the setting for the piece, but they did, with a huge winding staircase and the stage filled with dancers all in extravagant costumes. The highlight of the show was Christine at the graveyard singing Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again. It was hauntingly beautiful and the best vocal performance of the day. Most of the audience gave her a standing ovation.
After this, the show picked up pace with Don Juan and the plan to ensnare The Phantom. One of the sexiest songs of the show Point of No Return really exhibited the chemistry between the two players and was a good romp. Once more, quick scenery changing and clever techniques were used towards the final confrontation. It is a pivotal scene, where the love triangle is played out, with all the tension and drama of Christine’s dilemma. All three cast members’ performances were pitched perfectly, producing a wonderful finale. At the end, the entire cast came onto the stage to rapturous applause. Once more, most of the audience stood to show their appreciation, and as might be expected, Christine and The Phantom received the loudest praise.
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and will definitely be going again, perhaps investing in tickets for the balcony or the Grand Circle, just to get the full benefit.