35 years after its official premiere, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best-know musical received a major overhaul at his home place – with a revised production featuring some different sets and other modifications. Guillermo Názara reviews below the show’s updated look, to let us know about the new sound of the music of the night.
A collector’s piece indeed. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s world-famous extravaganza had in some way mirrored its own prologue over the years. Though still an audience’s fave (including this writer’s), the thing is that the West End enduring production was breaking more than records during its last decade, as the toll of time started to take over in more places than the billboards. Previous to the hiatus that halted the theatre around the globe, to see Phantom was sort of a museum-like experience – since apart from some minor details changed throughout the show’s run, the production was basically the same as to when it opened back in 1986, and the signs of withering were alarming. Then the pandemic struck – and believe it or not, the musical was blessed.
Once again, fact met fiction with the premiere of the revised so-called brilliant original. Just as the majestic chandelier whirls its universe around to transport us to a much more alluring period of beauty and grandeur, the piece has been completely reborn – and towers over the London scene like a vigorous phoenix showing off its unquenchable power. And in what way! There are simply no overstatements to describe what’s been done to this classic – or to how it feels to watch it. From little touches on some sets to a completely altered much more spectacular design to its iconic central piece, The Phantom of the Opera is no longer an antique worth seeing – it’s one of those hot shows you just can’t miss this very season.
All of the problems you may encounter with (as I had) until its venue was forceably closed have been solved – all of them. There’s no squeaky wheels, clumsy cloths removal or illusions that have not aged well. The performance functions like a Swiss clock and proves it’s been correctly modernized while keeping the essence (and in general, all of the visuals) of Harold Prince’s (director) ideas. “What’s different, then?”, you may ask. Well, although it may make no sense to you – everything. And that’s no joke I’m making, nor am I trying to confuse you. Maria Björnson’s concepts have been respected and well kept – but they have been improved considerably.
A much more whimisical rooftop scene (with a new colossal Pegasus statue to replace the now-forever-gone Victoire Ailée, the former much more effective, in my opinion) or a renvisioned journey to the lake – now featuring additional secret passages as a backdrop effect, all in all resulting in a much more complete immersive experience. This also goes to the simplification (though only at first sight) of the proscenium. Still featuring some of its unearthly enthralling gargoyles, the reduction of its dimensions (only in width) has allowed more room for the stage space, thus eliminating the recurrent cluttered appearance the production used to have (especially with those “hidden” -and unfortunately blocked- speakers). In addition, a new inner proscenium, which pays an unquestionable homage to Björnson’s Garnier-inspired figures, comes in and out during every opera scene – again enhancing the sensation of variety and distinctive attention to detail.
But what about those faces in the shadows (or more precisely, on the spotlight)? Because there’s no doubt that this year Her Majesty’s is home to some of London’s most accomplished actors. Working flawlessly as a company, the biggest shoutout is well deserved by Rhys Whitfield (Raoul, Vicomte de Chagney). Elegance, charm and, let’s say it, sexiness in his performance join his entincing robust singing voice, making one of the greatest revelations (and a definite must-see) in the last months. Lucy St. Louis, playing the role of the beloved ingenue Christine Daaé, excels in acting qualities, which are also shared by her onstage (let’s hope only there) enemy Saori Oda as the histrionic (and hysterical) Carlotta Giudicelli. Another exceptional incorporation comes from Adam Linstead as co-manager of the Opéra Populaire, Giles André – exuding naturality and an extraordinary comedy bone, a dazzling complement to the increased and much welcome comic reliefs.
For 35 years now, The Phantom of the Opera has kept capturing viewers’ imagination not only in the West End but all around the planet. A timeless relatable story with grasping, sometimes piercing, lyrics and astonishing music, this revamped version can only ensure one thing – Phantom just can’t get too old. I hate to break it to the hardcore phans, but contrary to their hero’s final line, the music of the night is far from over.
The Phantom of the Opera is performed from Monday to Saturday at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Tickets can be purchased on the following link.