Yes there’s the film but there’s nothing like the real deal: tonight, courtesy of my sister who has a sixth sense for cool offers, we went to see The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre.
You have to hand it to Lord Lloyd Webber, he does understand the magic of live-performance. Even though it did mean that you were absolutely forbidden to make any pictures, even the poor Japanese tourist who tried to get a snap for posterity during the break. ( You also have not experienced live theatre until you have had parts translated to you in Japanese… thanks family with too young son…)
The show’s in its 24th year and our current Phantom is John Owen-Jones. He of Les Mis fame as Jean Valjean, though he also has the longest run as Phantom since he did a stint between 2001 and 2004: nearly 1400 performances. Catch this man if you can, his voice is amazing.
Set in an old theatre, the story recalls the time of grandeur, when a lot of operas were performed and visited by the well-to-do. The building is haunted though by a ghost with a preference for a particular chorus girl, Christine (Sofia Escobar). He teaches her to sing and tries to force the powers that be into casting her in lead-roles. This is obviously to the dismay of the prima donna, Carlotta ( Wendy Ferguson). The sponsors want to please their star but as they refuse the Phantom’s offers, he gets annoyed and starts mayhem.
I have to admit the story is a little creepy: a man with a facial deformity falls obsessively in love with a chorus-girl, who is a) much younger b) so in awe of him, potentially seeing him as an angel or at one point even her dead father ( Talking about issues…) She also has the problem of a suitor, Raoul the Vicomte who the Phantom doesn’t like.
Still it’s the Phantom’s trickery to get Christine’s attention and keep away from others, where the live performance gets its magic. People appearing from nowhere and disappearing into nowhere, fire-tricks and elaborate set designs that incorporate the shows-in-the-show and setting impressive atmospheres from rooftops and graveyards to the famous gondola scene, when the Phantom takes Christine to his lair through the mist… yeah still a bit creepy, but wonderful to see happening before your eyes.
I love that part of theatre, the fact that all the action is happening in real-time. (We were annoyingly reminded by a patron who forgot to turn his phone off.) Even for a Tuesday it was pretty full and there is something special about such a large group of people watching the stage silently and everyone’s engaged with the story. I know, the West-End might be considered all horribly commercial but I have to admit that the Phantom was top-entertainment: engaging, entertaining, spectacular.
The proof is in the audience subconsciously humming the classic songs on its way out, even the young Japanese boy.