The Theatreguide.London Review
The Phantom Of The Opera
Her Majesty's Theatre 1986-
Phantom is without question the best of the megamusicals and (with the possible exception of the campily eclectic Joseph) Andrew Lloyd Webber's best score. It is also director Hal Prince's best work since his earlier days with Stephen Sondheim.
In short, it is one of the best musicals ever, and just about the only one of the past two decades worthy of being mentioned alongside Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Have I made my position clear?
Lloyd Webber (I'm going to credit him with everything, though of course he had collaborators) had the brilliant insight that the horror movie chestnut was, at its core, a love story, and that it called for lush, romantic music. Surely (and I am far from the first to make this comparison) Music of the Night is the finest theatre love song since Some Enchanted Evening. But, as years of elevator music have reminded us, All I Ask of You, Think of Me and the title song are first-rate pop melodies.
(Of course, if you're anything like I was in 1986, you'll hardly notice the title song, being so enthralled by the staging of the descent into the grotto that it accompanies.)
We're on the zillionth cast by now, and no one can replace Michael Crawford. (Sarah Brightman is another matter: however good she sounds on the recording, her voice was actually very muddy in person.) But the excellences of the show are cast-proof. If you have never seen it, or if all you saw was a stripped-down touring version, treat yourself to the original.
Return Visit, November
2001 . . .
There is a reason why some shows run forever - they're good. Fifteen years after its opening, The Phantom of the Opera is still one of the best musicals you're likely ever to see.
While waiting outside the theatre, I was asked by three different people to use their cameras to take their picture in front of the poster. It is easy for those of us who are regular theatregoers to forget how exciting the evening can be for those tourists and others for whom a show like Phantom is a very special event. That's why I'm very pleased to be able to report that the producers have clearly worked hard at keeping the show fresh and the quality high.
Perhaps nothing will ever quite match the rush of wonder that the show offered when the performances of Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman first enhanced the extraordinary Harold Prince production. But, a zillion cast replacements later, we are still in the same premier league.
The current at-certain-performances Christine, Claire Louise Hammacott, has - dare I say it? - a clearer and purer voice than Brightman, and if she works a bit too hard at flirting with the audience, to the detriment of her characterisation, Brightman herself could be equally guilty. John Owen-Jones replaces some of the richness of Crawford's voice with a sharper tone that goes along with a darker characterisation, more effective with the Phantom's anger than his pathos, but the slight shift in tone is still effective. Matthew Cammelle is appropriately dashing and romantic as Raoul.
And all the great songs - and they really are great theatre songs - are still chilling in their emotional power. "Music Of The Night" is, of course, wonderful, but it is nice to be reminded how beautiful a love song "All I Ask of You" is, and how haunting a melody is almost casually dashed off in "The Point Of No Return." My only complaint is that the singing and balance of the group numbers, like the septet to "Prima Donna," is frequently muddied.
After 15 years of second-rate musicals with splashy special effects, there is still nothing to match the stage magic of the title song and the descent into the Phantom's lair; and generally, the visual elegance and flair of Hal Prince's staging are as effective as ever. The falling chandelier is, in fact, better than it was the first year (though the much-anticipated effect is still a bit lame, as are some of the damp-squib fireworks of the Phantom's magic).
The point is that there are still a lot of people out there who have never seen Phantom, and for whom a visit would be a special event; and, as a fan of the show, I am very happy that it still delivers the really exciting adventure they hope for and deserve.
(Be aware that long-running shows will have had cast changes since our review was written.)
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Review - Phantom of the Opera - Her Majesty's Theatre 1986