Phantom is back, but it looks a bit different.
Audiences expecting the beloved 1986 production will immediately notice the new chandelier hung from the State Theatre roof. This is the first of many changes in this reimagined version of the great mega-musical.
These adjustments are worth mentioning, given Phantom’s staggering record (until 2014) as the most successful entertainment event of all time. Older marketing for the show simply displayed the titular character’s mask logo, a testament to the show’s popularity in the zeitgeist.
For the Phantom uninitiated, the Cameron Mackintosh helmed production is an adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel. Set at the Paris Opera House, young soprano Christine Daaé (Amy Manford) is mysteriously tutored by the Opera Ghost (Josh Piterman), a disfigured genius whose initial romantic charm is limited when he terrorises all in ‘his’ opera house in pursuit of Christine.
New staging and scenic design (Paul Brown, with video and projections by Nina Dunn) play with scale, setting backstage scenes in small dressing rooms and offices, overshadowed by the imposing walls of the opera house and its catacombs. While this works to great effect in symbolising the terror upon the helpless Opera performers and managers, it unfortunately has a similar effect on the Phantom, making him a less mysterious and ominous than in the original production. Act Two’s ‘Masquerade’ faces a different challenge – with a squished in cast limiting the joyfulness of the number. Some transitions are clunky due to set changes such as Carlotta’s exit from the office in ‘Notes’ into ‘Prima Donna’.
Although marred by unsuccessful mirror magic on opening night, the title song’s new staging sees the Phantom and Christine tread tenuously down the enchanted steps down to the catacombs. It’s jaw-dropping, and worth the ticket price alone.
The late, great, Maria Björnson’s exceptional costume designs are recreated with grace by Jill Parker. A rich palette illustrates the story’s grandiosity, even more noticeable against the new, darker, sets. The Phantom’s new ‘Masquerade’ costume is, however, an odd choice.
New direction by Laurence Connor is particularly successful in the lighter moments, with the Il Muto opera heightened in its melodrama thanks to playful comedic moments from the supporting and ensemble cast.
Overall, the performances are sensational. Piterman’s Phantom is suitably tragic, skilfully playing up the character’s physical limitations in his more intimate moments. This nuance is no small feat in the huge State Theatre. Amy Manford’s Christine is a charming ingenue, and in this staging has a bit more ‘bite’, standing up to being used by both Raoul and the Phantom. Paul Tabone steals every scene as Piangi, playing beautifully off Giuseppina Grech’s diva Carlotta. Blake Bowden sings Raoul with ease.
A sumptuous 27-piece orchestra delight from the iconic 'Overture' to the final notes of Act Two.
Whether new to this mega-musical, or a diehard ‘phan’, grand performances and tight direction make this a production worth seeing.
The Phantom of the Opera is playing at the State Theatre, Melbourne until February 2023.
Photos: Daniel Boud