It doesn’t seem that long ago as a musical loving teen that I made my way to Manchester’s Opera House to catch Dave Willets don the white mask in Phantom of the Opera. I went to see it 5 times during its run here in 1993, the first tour it had done outside of London, and proudly pinned my ‘POTO’ badge on my denim jacket and wore it to my drama classes. Since then I have seen numerous productions of the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic, even watching the sequel Love Never Dies recently which, despite having Ramin Karimloo in the lead role, sadly never quite lived up to its predecessor.
Now, 25 years after it first opened in the West End, Sir Cameron Mackintosh and Lord Webber have teamed up to produce a new production of Phantom of the Opera which has embarked on a national tour giving fans and newcomers a real treat.
Manchester is the second stop for the show where it opened this week at the Palace Theatre, running for over a month till the 19th May.
Often when dramatic changes are made to shows they can sometimes lose the original feel and charm-there might be bits left out you really miss, or new songs added that don’t quite fit in but neither is the case here.
What I was presented with was a slick and lavish production and the show is a true spectacle from start to finish. Sir Cameron Mackintosh has recently revamped two other classic shows in Oliver! and Les Miserables giving them the ‘X-Factor’ and no scene is left untouched here to produce a real masterpiece of modern theatre. Paul Brown’s set designs are truly enchanting with the centre piece being an impressive cylindrical tower that opens up like a box of delights to reveal various sets inside. Christines’ descent from the top of the tower to the Phantoms boat and subsequently his eerie lair produces a jaw-dropping and cinematic piece of theatre.
The precision and speed with which scenes are changed must be applauded along with the fantastic and evocative lighting design by Paule Constable, which incorporates great use of shadows to give the whole piece a sinister feel.
John Owen-Jones excels once again as The Phantom-a role he has now played nearly 2000 times, which is more than anyone else in the show’s history. Owen-Jones brings emotion and intensity to The Phantom along with a voice that is truly haunting, non more so than in his solo Music of the Night. Katie Hall puts in a charming performance as Christine Daae oozing with an angelic naivety and freshness. There’s definitely an air of Sarah Brightman in Hall that makes you think Webber had deliberately cast her to portray the female role in this love story, evoking memories of the original 25 years ago.
At the helm of this new touring production is director Laurence Connor who also directed the POTO 25th Anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall-so it’s no surprise his expert hands have worked their magic once again.
What really works for this production is the gentle pace it moves at, which never seems rushed and allows the audience to take everything in. The show also marries the balance of fine voices with fine actors as there were some stellar performances on display from Angela M Caesar as the opera diva Carlotta and the supporting cast who gave the lyrics new meaning, understanding and depth.
In a day and age where, like most things, theatre tickets are increasing in price you would not be disappointed spending your hard earned money on this lavish new production. It delivers on so many levels that you can’t really fault it.
I would happily surrender to the music of the night again and again.
Catch it in Manchester whilst you can, you won’t be disappointed!
The Phantom of The Opera
Palace Theatre, Manchester
5th April-19th May 2012