30 July 2007

The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera
Really Useful Group

28 July 2007
Princess Theatre


The Phantom of the Opera has returned to the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. It is as lavish and spectacular as it was in the 1990s and Anthony Warlow’s return as the Phantom is phabulous, but the production is already feeling like a franchised McPhantom.
 
The Phantom of the Opera has been phenomenally successful since it opened in London in 1986. The official web site estimates that more than 80 million people have seen it in hundreds of cities in more than 20 countries. It has created some of the most magical moments in contemporary musical theatre and some of the most copied and ultimately clichéd moments. We are still seeing the same production (direction, choreography, design) that has thrilled for over 20 years. Which is where the problem may lie. It wasn’t lazy performances or a bad cast, but this production felt tired and almost lacklustre.

The design is still stunning, the costumes amazing and the overture chandelier moment is one of the greatest musical theatre openings (perhaps only surpassed by The Lion King). Yet this Phantom is already beginning to feel like its own cliché. The dry ice, great make up and magic disappearances are so expected now that they have very little impact.

The book and score are full of mystery, deaths, disappearances and constant threat, but there was very little tension on the stage. We were never really scared for Christine and her fate. The climax of the show is the unmasking of the Phantom (I think this well enough known that it’s not a spoiler), but was so expected that it was almost an anti-climax.

The 1986 production and direction aren’t translating to 2007. This Phantom needs new energy to re-connect with its audience and re-create the atmosphere and tension that have made it such a success.

What does make this production shine is the phantastic Warlow. His Phantom is complex and haunting and human. He was struggling vocally with a lurgy on opening night, but few would have noticed if the director hadn’t announced it before opening. The show is totally his, vocally and emotionally.

This shouldn’t be the case. Every one on that stage should (and could) be as good as Warlow. I may not have been so disappointed if it wasn’t for the most recent Miss Saigon, where every member of the cast has the same energy, commitment and range as the principals. Just because it’s a franchised production, doesn’t mean it can’t be amazing and engaging.

Ana Marina’s sings Christine beautifully and brings an interesting vocal interpretation to one of the hardest music theatre roles to sing. However, Christine has two men thoroughly obsessed with her, two women secretly protecting her and an entire opera company fearing for their lives because she is in their midst. This Christine is sweet and innocent and lovely, but not yet achieving the performance than makes us believe that men would kill for her. Her stage connection with Raoul (John Bowles) and to the Phantom is also lacking. This is a show about huge emotions. We have to believe those kisses.

I have loved Phantom since I bought the double album with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. Even through my computer speakers this recording has more tension and life than the current Australian production.

Our latest Phantom is an expensive ticket. If this is a concern, listen to the original recording and rent the DVD of the film (which is actually pretty good).

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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