Review by Suzanne Tate
The announcement of a revised version of a dearly loved long-running musical like The Phantom of the Opera may sometimes cause concern to both fans and critics. With a show as iconic and loved as Phantom, people may be forgiven for wondering how it could be improved and why anything needed to be changed at all. For this new iteration, Producer Cameron Mackintosh put together a new creative team, including Director Laurence Connor and Choreographer Scott Ambler.
The stunning original costumes designed by the late Maria Björnson have been retained, and are still a highlight of the show. The most noticeable changes, that have brought new life to the beloved show, come from Set Designer Paul Brown, Lighting Designer Paule Constable and Sound Designer Mick Potter, as Mackintosh encouraged the team to utilise advances in technology and theatrical wizardry to enrich the story.
In my opinion, it is the new sets that stand out as producing the most dramatic difference to this reimagined performance. In the Programme, Brown states he avoided referring to the original production. He was more familiar with Björnson’s work in opera than with her original iconic design for the set of Phantom. What he sought to create was “a world of contrasts”, and he did so very successfully. The contrast between the opera set onstage, the backstage world, and then further variance with the underground lair of the opera ghost is very distinctive and creates an immersive world.
The sets are impressive. Visually stunning, grand of scale and utilising modern technological advances in very effective ways, such as the vertiginous staircase leading down into the subterranean cavern. The room of mirrors, where the masquerade ball is held, is stunning. It feels authentic, and vintage. The mirrors are aged and muted, but present the glamour of a bygone era, as do the stunning proscenium arch and multi-storeyed viewing boxes.
One change lauded in the programme, that of the chandelier being made “even more spectacular”, did not seem to be much of an improvement to me. I seem to recall a much more dramatic reaction from the audience back in the 90s (in fear for their life I suspect!) with the swinging chandelier. I wont spoil the surprise of the current incarnation, and rest assured it is still very dramatic, but wont stick in my memory as the original did. Another change that was lacking for me was the gondola crossing the subterranean lake. The space taken up by the very impressive central construction that opens, and rotates to depict a range of settings, required that the lake crossing occurred across the stage in the foreground, rather than utilising most of the stage, and travelling down stage as it did in the original version. It is a necessary change, as the multi storey set that takes up much of the stage allows for some magical scene changes and brings a fresh new look to the set, but I did miss the ethereal beauty of the original lake crossing scene.
Phantom originally launched in 1986 in London’s West End and came to Australia in 1990. I was fortunate to see it twice in the 90s and saw both Rob Guest and Anthony Warlow play the title role. In this new show, the role of the Phantom is played magnificently by Josh Piterman. He made his West-End debut with the role of the Phantom in 2019 and returns to the role in Melbourne. Vocally faultless, and emotionally charged, Piterman’s performance of the tortured individual who is the opera ghost captivated the audience.
The role of Christine Daaé was portrayed beautifully by Amy Manford. She was entirely convincing in the role of the unknown ingénue who rises to prominence with the tutelage and support of the Phantom. Manford’s vocal range is impressive and her tone pure and clear. Her acting effectively portrayed the wide range of emotion required, from nervousness to confidence, from awe, to fear and then pity. And her performance also paired beautifully with that of Blake Bowdon as Raoul. The various duets between Christine and the Phantom, and Christine and Raoul were all rendered beautifully, encouraging the audience to truly get lost in the music. Manford’s beautiful coloratura range quite literally gave me goosebumps. The primary roles were ably supported by an impressive cast and orchestra.
This new interpretation of The Phantom of the Opera is lush and beautiful and draws the audience into the elegant and dramatic world behind the performances at the Palais Garnier, and also into the more fanciful, gothic subterranean world of the Phantom himself. Every scene and musical number was a delight to behold, and well worth the 30 year wait since I last saw The Phantom of the Opera live.
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
Until February 5, 2023
Tickets and information from www.phantomoftheopera.com.au
Photo credit: Daniel Boud