There’s a new Phantom in town and what a Phantom it is!
Cameron Mackintosh created a `fresh look’ for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s juggernaut musical The Phantom of the Opera in 2012 and it’s this production which is now showing at Art Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre.
Changes to the 1980’s original include some of the set designs. The reason according to Mackintosh is to provide a greater contrast between the Phantom’s darker backstage world with that of the traditional opera world onstage. The changes also allow the production to be more portable.
As it’s been so long since I saw my ‘first Phantom’ (it debuted in Melbourne in the 1990s) I can’t recall that much about the original.
What I do remember is the famous chandelier scene. This scene is again one of the talking points of the new production. It’s also said to be symbolic of the new over the old – the greater use of lights, illusions and special effects. The result is set designs that are sometimes opulent, often innovative and occasionally surprising.
There’s also a change in the attitude of some of the characters, especially Christine, the young singer who is loved by both the Phantom and Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny. The `new’ Christine is more empowered and less subservient than the original.
The influence of Opera Australia, which is a co-partner in the production, is also obvious in those scenes recreating operatic performances.
What hasn’t changed is the storyline which begins in early 20th century Paris, when the now-aged Raoul (Blake Bowden), attends an auction of items from the Paris Opera. The appearance of a chandelier takes his thoughts back to 1881 and the woman he loved – Christine Daaé (Amy Manford).
Initially a dancer in the Paris Opera, Christine’s stunning voice is discovered by new theatre managers (David Whitney and Andy Morton), after the opera’s lead singer Carlotta (Giuseppina Grech) refuses to perform in a new opera, Hannibal, due to the many unnatural happenings occurring at the opera house.
Christine’s debut in Carlotta’s place is a triumph and re-unites her with childhood friend Raoul who is now a Count. The attraction between the two is obvious.
However, as it turns out Christine’s voice is the work of the Phantom (Josh Piterman), an outcast due to his badly scarred face. The Phantom spends his days in his subterranean lair composing music and giving Christine singing lessons, although she has never seen him. He’s in love with Christine and also wants her to sing the lead in the devilishly difficult opera he is writing. He’s also responsible for the mayhem at the opera house.
The Phantom is not happy about Christine and Raoul’s attraction and what follows is explores the relationship between the three.
Also unchanged in this new production is the unforgettable music which is magnificently bought to life by a cast of 37 and a 27 piece orchestra.
Both Piterman and Manford have played their respective roles in the show’s London West End and Sydney seasons and as such are truly confident and believable.
Piterman’s Phantom is certainly evil but his acting and singing also bring out the character’s vulnerable side. Manford’s singing is one of the show’s great strengths, nailing every demanding vocal challenge the role requires. Her acting is just as impressive bringing to life her character’s tenderness, strength and decency. Bowden also gives a strong performance as Raoul thanks again to his acting and vocal presentation.
The supporting cast and ensemble are equally as impressive with their comic work providing some light hearted relief from the angst experienced by the three leads.
Paul Tabone as the tenor, Ubaldo Piangi, and Grech as the self-absorbed diva Carlotta are a joy to watch while Whitney and Morton shine as the unfortunate new managers of the opera company. Jayde Westaby as the mysterious ballet mistress, Madame Giry, who knows something of the Phantom’s history, and Mietta White as her daughter Meg, also impress in their more serious roles.
The combination of the skills of an experienced and talented cast, the music, imaginative and often stunning sets and a story which tells of love and loss ensures this new version of The Phantom of the Opera offers something for fans and those who have yet to experience `The Music of the Night’.
The Phantom of the Opera is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre until February 5. For more information and tickets visit The Phantom of the Opera website.
*Photo credit: Daniel Boud.
Jenny Burns attended the opening night of The Phantom of the Opera as a guest of the producers.
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