It's time to go back to the stage once again for a recommendation of, arguably, one of the most enduringly popular stage musicals to have entertained audiences in the last few decades. Oh yes, there are many other contenders and some fans of the theatre even frown upon something as popular as "Phantom" but there's no denying that it makes for a very worthwhile evening and provides more spectacle in two and a half hours than even the disappointing 2004 movie adaptation could provide. To put it simply, it deserves the praise that has been heaped upon it over the years.
In fact, I wasn't even going to put a review here because it feels quite redundant. Unlike the shows that I went to, and reviewed, during the Festival a couple of months ago, The Phantom Of The Opera really doesn't need help gaining positive word of mouth. However, I am now so in the habit of trying to review everything I see worth reviewing that to not even put a few words together for this stunning stage musical would have been a missed opportunity, if only for my own sense of self-satisfaction.
The story is known to most people. The Phantom (played in this production by Earl Carpenter) haunts the opera house, keeping himself hidden and letting everything go smoothly as long as things are done his way. He has been training up young Christine (played by either Katie Hall or Olivia Brereton) and wishes her to become a great success in a leading role. He also wishes that she might one day love him. Needless to say, the handsome Raoul (Simon Bailey) is against this plan because he is in love with Christine himself. A number of other people are against the plan because, well, because they already have experienced singers in place and don't want to spend their lives catering to every whim of The Phantom. Maybe a mishap or two, with the occasional unfortunate death, will change their minds.
Fans of the source material will already know that this is based on the novel 'Le Fantome de l'Opera' by Gaston Leroux. This particular production has been overseen by Matthew Bourne and Cameron Mackintosh, choreographed by Scott Ambler and directed by Laurence Connor. Special mention must be given to set designer Paul Brown but I will also go out of my way to remind folks that a production of this magnitude take the skill and talent of many, many people, all of them deserving recognition for their contribution.
Now I have to get my controversial statement out of the way; The Phantom Of The Opera is not a perfect musical. I've seen/heard much better. The first half contains the unforgettable titular tune and The Music Of The Night, both absolute highlights of the show, but the second half has very little that stands out after the opener, Masquerade. There are also major problems when different characters are brought into different songs with their themes intertwining. To me, it just didn't work and I was left frustrated by a) not hearing what certain characters were singing and b) having to endure a rather tuneless mix. Of course, I don't really mean that it was completely tuneless but it was certainly a horrible mess compared to what I was expecting. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between. But they are there.
Everything builds to a moving finale, a crescendo of both music and emotion. There is a little bit of humour here and there but the story is built on a macabre foundation and keeps a dark heart beating behind all of the exchanges and songs. This is also shown in the wonderful sets and when I say wonderful sets I mean WONDERFUL sets. In my limited exposure to live theatre shows, I have yet to see set design quite as impressive and interesting as this. Believe me, if I'd been able to sneak a decent camera in and take photographs every few minutes then this blog entry would have been a lot more picturesque. Sadly, it wasn't to be. I selfishly wanted to be allowed to stay in my seat and enjoy the whole show rather than be ejected from the theatre for breaking the rules.
The cast are all pretty fantastic. Earl Carpenter really wins over the whole audience as The Phantom, despite being such a cruel and bitter figure at times, and his singing is flawless. I must confess, and apologise, that I don't know if it was Katie Hall or Olivia Brereton playing Christine in the show I attended but whichever of the two it was - bravo. A likeable portrayal of the character and more flawless singing. Simon Bailey wasn't quite on the same level but he was very good nonetheless. Elizabeth Marsh was a little disappointing as Madame Giry but that didn't matter when there was so much to enjoy in the performances from Angela M. Caesar, Andy Hockley and Simon Green. Hannah Cadec doesn't get to do too much with her role, Meg Giry, but does it well while Vincent Pirillo, as Ubaldo Piangi, is another delight.
If you're sitting there and thinking just how I can write this review and have the sheer gall to criticise any element of an insitution created by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber over 25 years ago then don't worry, I already gave myself a stern talking to while writing this piece. I felt bad, I really did, even putting down such minor criticisms but I always call 'em as I see 'em. It doesn't matter anyway. Those flaws pale into insignificance when the whole production piles spectacle upon spectacle and, for the duration of the show, audience members are taken from the heights of Box 5 to the dark and dangerous depths of the Paris Opera House.
P.S. Fans of the show may like this sequel (??), Love Never Dies - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Love-Never-Dies-Double-Blu-ray/dp/B005QVVL2Y/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1349557260&sr=8-2
Tickets and tour dates are here, the show runs at The Edinburgh Playhouse from Thursday 20th September to Saturday 20th October - http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/phantom-of-the-opera-tickets/