To celebrate my 26th birthday I decided to take myself to see The Phantom of the Opera. It was the first musical theatre album I ever listened to when I was a teenager, so a visit to Her Majesty’s seemed well overdue.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Phantom was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the novel by Victor Hugo, and initially served as a love letter to his then-wife Sarah Brightman. It tells the story of Christine Daae (Kelly Mathieson), a young performer in the corps de ballet of the Paris Opera who has been receiving singing lessons from the mysterious Phantom (at this performance, Scott Davies). When the principal singer Carlotta (at this performance, Katy Hanna) is scared off, Christine rises to fame and catches the eye of her old family friend, the viscount Raoul (Jeremy Taylor) and a love triangle ensues.
This is perhaps one of Lloyd Webber’s most famous scores, and whilst actual opera buffs may sneer, there was something pretty magical about hearing it live with an orchestra and large ensemble cast bringing it to life. The design of the show by Maria Bjornson is great too – whilst the sets definitely sound their age, the costumes are stunning, and the little bits of magic with the staging are really fun (including the infamous chandelier crash).
When a show has been running as long as Phantom, there are maybe worries that the show won’t seem as slick as it did ‘back in the day’ , and potentially the performances won’t be as great as in a brand new production. However, I was generally quite happy with how the performers interpreted a show I’d only ever heard in my ears. I really loved Kelly Mathieson’s performance as Christine – the book (by Richard Stilgoe) doesn’t exactly develop many of its characters – but Mathieson gave Christine the right blend of naivete and romance and her voice was stunning. Scott Davies as The Phantom definitely played towards the ‘father’ figure, and was good when The Phantom becomes more sinister although I did feel that ‘Music of the Night’ lacked a bit of power. Katy Hanna, who understudies Carlotta, was great fun with an appropriately OTT soprano. I was a bit underwhelmed by Jeremy Taylor who, although not helped by the book, didn’t really do much with Raoul. The ensemble really bring the show to life – and I felt Andrei Teodor Iliescu and Grace Horne in particular stood out during the dance sequences.
Phantom is such an institution in the West End that I’m thrilled to finally tick it off my list, my 11-year-old self would be very pleased to know that it stands up just as well 15 years after I first listened to it.