Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

The Phantom of the Opera

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

Comments

Comment by Alan Hulme

Absolutely agree, it's stunning, overwhelming, one of the biggest stage spectacles you'll ever see, telling a still rather confused but nevertheless gripping story that also sends you out of the theatre with a clutch of tunes to whistle.

It's worth every penny of the admission charges and then some, no one could possibly feel short changed, such is the generosity of the theatrical feast put before you.

 

Comment by David Upton

That makes three of us! A spectacular new touring version that positively flaunts its opulence.

Cameron Mackintosh promised an exciting new design and staging and keeps his word, with a stage set that almost becomes the star of the show, and certainly displays Maria Bjornson’s original costumes to even greater effect.

Paul Brown’s stage design swivels, shifts and soars to create sumptuous backdrops. This would be an extravagant staging for a production putting down roots, let alone one that is touring the provinces.

Who cares that the chandelier does not swing down to centre stage? Especially since it now lights up more like something from Close Encounters.

Instead this set magically produces a curling staircase, in cartoon style, or bursts into dramatic flames at the Phantom’s bidding.

John Owen-Jones, in the title role, is equally illuminating and in a terrific central performance ensures the human element of the story is not lost amidst the stage wizardry.

As Christine, Katie Hall is also a substantial presence, as singer and actress, and Simon Bailey completes a third sharp point of the story’s intense love triangle.

The wittiness of Richard Stilgoe’s additional lyrics is on evident display in songs like Notes or Prima Donna and, more than some other productions of Phantom, reminds us of the gentle opera spoofery enjoyed here.

Elements of Gilbert and Sullivan, grand and comique opera, even the percussive textures of later rock styles combine in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s finest couple of hours.

Comment by Carmel Thomason

In a time of austerity it's good to see that Cameron Mackintosh is making sure that the ticket price goes further. There has been no skimping on this lavish 25th anniversary production and the result is sensational. Phantom has stood the test of time, and this terrific production will no doubt win over a whole new generation of fans.  

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