The Phantom of the Opera is here in the new city this week, filling the auditorium of Milton Keynes Theatre with a chilling presence!
The West-End blockbuster is now in its 26th year and Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s phenomenal musical was especially created for the 25th anniversary national tour.
As I had hoped, last night’s performance was spine-tingling. Indeed, from the moment the glittering chandelier was unveiled just above our heads, the audience knew that a spectacular evening of entertainment lay ahead.
Far beneath the splendour of the Paris Opera House, in the late nineteenth century, an eerie masked Phantom lives a shadowy existence. A reclusive genius (architect, composer and musician) he has been deformed since birth. Cursed with a face not even a mother could love, the character of the Phantom incites both fear and pity as he cowers behind his mask. Ashamed of his repulsive physical appearance, he lurks in his lair, lonely and troubled.
His ghostly presence beneath the building goes largely undetected, until he makes his singing known to beautiful ballet-girl (and his handpicked protégée) Christine Daaé. The love he holds for her becomes obsessive and over-powering. Soon, terrible things begin to happen to the company of the Opera House as the Phantom goes to extreme lengths to make Christine his greatest success.
Based on the French novel Le Fantôme de l’Operá by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera opened in the West End in 1986, starring Michael Crawford in the title role and Sarah Brightman as Christine. Considered by many to be the most successful musical of all time, Phantom is the longest running show in Broadway history and the musical has broken box office records worldwide.
This new version is overseen by Cameron Mackintosh and choreographer Matthew Bourne, with design by Paul Brown. It is a simply huge production and the team have set out to make the narrative darker and more dramatic than ever before. A total of 22 trailers are needed to transport the incredible set and it costs up to £222,000 to move the show to each new venue. Onstage, the sheer scale and spectacle of the set makes for awesome scene changes. The story moves seamlessly from one location to the next thanks to the gigantic revolving centrepiece, accompanied by stunning special effects, clever lighting and an atmospheric soundscape.
Earl Carpenter stars as the reclusive Phantom. With over 20 years in the business, Earl has been involved in numerous projects as a performer, director and producer. Most significantly, he performed in Cameron Mackintosh’s productions of The Phantom of the Opera in the West End and on tour and in Les Misérables. He plays the Phantom beautifully, getting the right blend of madness and vulnerability. Earl sensitively portrays the Phantom’s loneliness and desire for love against the backdrop of the spooky labyrinth. His anguish is clearly communicated through captivating vocals.
Katie Hall takes the role of ballet-girl turned leading-lady Christine. She trained with the National Youth Music Theatre before coming to the attention of Lloyd Webber in the BBC’s search for Nancy in I’d Do Anything and in the search for a Eurovision entry in Your Country Needs You (also the BBC). Katie deserves special commendation, as the character Christine is constantly onstage and most of the big numbers feature her impressive, remarkably clear, voice.
The plays performed by the company of the Paris Opera House entertain away from the burgeoning romance between Christine and her childhood friend Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, (Simon Bailey), and, of course, the darker relationship forged between Christine and the Phantom.
Notable musical numbers include ‘Think of Me’, the iconic ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’. All are superbly performed by the talented cast and brilliant orchestra (directed by Craig Edwards).
The Act Two grand ballroom scene featuring the whole company in ‘Masquerade / Why So Silent?’ is an exquisite song and dance number. The colourful costumes, magical masks and exuberant choreography produce a more light-hearted feel after the tension before the interval. However, the sinister undercurrent of the threat of the Phantom continues to pulse beneath the seemingly joyful New Year’s Eve dancing.
The opera house setting for this musical also means there is plenty of ballet from the corps de ballet dancers. They briefly take centre stage before providing background action to the main characters as the story unfolds (an added bonus for this balletomane!).
Phantom is the ultimate theatrical experience. The mesmerising characters and heart-wrenching story – combined with the powerful lyrics and music – stayed with me long after the curtain fell down on yet another historical performance of this “phantastic” musical.
The Phantom of the Opera will haunt Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 24 November 2012.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.