Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart
Cameron Mackintosh, Really Useful Company
Palace, Manchester 05 April 2012 to 19 May 2012
The trouble with this show for me was always that while the set was mightily impressive, in almost every other respect Phantom of the Opera was a bit wraith-like. It was a sort of musical Marvel comic - great to look at, grand dark theme, not much substance.
But Cameron Mackintosh’s multi-million-pound revision of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest hit is like his makeover of “Les Miserables” - if anything even better than the original.
The set is still tremendously impressive, but now seems to serve the (be honest, pretty stupid) story and characters, rather than letting them get on with it as best they can.
Now a plank floor houses a large revolve and two theatre boxes - both full stage height and on turntables, so conversion from opera house to other settings is fast. Central is a vast cylinder, 20ft wide, three feet thick and the full height of the stage. Down the outside of its dark walls is a precarious staircase to the catacombs; on the inside, as it divides out of the way, a succession of Grand Guignol settings - opera house roof, backstage, the cemetery, the Phantom’s lair, and so on. The boat trip is still there, but a bit puny; and yes the chandelier remains, but doesn’t descend quite so dramatically. Mackintosh has instead spent a lot of money very wisely.
What the set now does is to concentrate the stage pictures and make the show appear both big and yet still full of detail. The action is pushed remarkably close to the front of the large Palace stage at times, which also means 26 dancers and singers in Masquerade, without the giant staircase, can still fill the stage with movement.
What this new set and slight book revisions also do is to put the story and performers uppermost - and what performers!
John Owen Jones is as terrific a Phantom as he is a Valjean in Les Mis, his voice stunning, his acting powerful, especially in the final scene. Opposite him, Katie Hall is a strikingly good Christine, a strong actress and a very fine singer. Simon Bailey’s Raoul is ardent and intense throughout. This is one of the strongest trios yet in this musical.
Have no fear about buying tickets. I’ve never been a big fan of anything but Phantom’s grandeur: now, with this cast, the rest has caught up in a big way.
Reviewer: Paul Genty