„The Phantom of the Opera is there, inside my mind“…one could think that is absolutely true when sitting in Her Majesty’s Theatre in London and awaiting the beginning of this record-breaking show by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It takes seconds from the beginning of the Overture to be drawn into the music and the story of this iconic musical. Set in the Parisian Opera House, Lloyd Webber tells the mysterious story of the Phantom of the Opera based on the book by Gaston Leroux.
1905. The Opéra Populaire in Paris is holding an auction of old theatrical props. Lot 665, an old music box with the figure of a monkey is purchased by Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Nadim Naaman). After that Lot 666 the once fantastic but now chattered chandelier of the opera house in auctioned. The auctioneer (Philip Griffiths) is the one telling his audience about the strange connection to the mysterious affair of the Phantom of the Opera “a mystery never fully explained”. When uncovered the chandelier flickers and magically it rises over the audience into its original position.
The time returns to 1881 the beginnings of the mysterious case of the Phantom of the Opera. The Opera’s new owners Monsieur Firmin (Siôn Llyod) and Monsieur André (Mark Oxtoby) are shown around the Opera. During their tour, rehearsals of the new production are underway. Prima Donna Carlotta (Lara Martins) is nearly hit by a collapsing backdrop. After this incident, Carlotta refuses to continue the rehearsal and storms off. Ballet Mistress Madame Giry (Jacinta Mulcahy) suggests to the gentlemen, that chorus girl Christine Daaé (Celinde Schoenmaker) has been well taught and is able to sing the role. Christine is hesitant but is pressured to sing for the new opera owners and is promptly cast as replacement for Carlotta. After the performance Christine confesses to Meg (Daisy Hulbert) her friend and Madame Giry’s daughter, that she does not know who is teaching her to sing. She only knows her mysterious teacher as The Angel of Music (Scott Davies). Meanwhile the new patron of the Opera, Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny has witnessed the performance and recognized Christine as his childhood friend. He wants to take Christine to dinner to celebrate her success. The Angel of Music however is jealous and stops Christine from going out by taking her to his hiding place accessed through the mirror in Christine’s room.
Upon returning from the Phantoms hide out in the sub terrain of the Opera Christine is to take Carlotta’s role in Il Muto upon the Phantoms direction. After the disastrous show, Christine escapes to the rooftop of the Opera with Raoul. She tells him what had happened and Raoul swears to protect her. The Phantom overhears their conversation and angrily he vows to take revenge against Raoul. In a fit of rage, he sends the chandelier crashing down on stage.
Six months after the dramatic happenings in the Opera a masquerade ball is held. The Phantom masked as Red Death makes an appearance and announces that he has written an opera called “Don Juan Triumphant” and demands it is produced immediately with Christine as lead singer. When learning Christine is now engaged to Raoul he vanishes. Raoul comes up with a plan to capture the Phantom, who normally watches all performances from Box 5. Christine, torn between her love for Raoul and her gratitude for the Phantom’s influence on her career, flees to the cemetery where her father is buried. The Phantom appears and nearly lulls Christine back into following him. Raoul comes to her rescue. Things progress and Christine and Ubaldo Piangi (Paul Ettore Tabone) take the lead roles. During “Don Juan” the Phantom replaces Piangi who has been murdered by him before and expresses his love for Christine. The Phantom takes Christine to his hide out. An angry mob led by Meg searches for them, while Madame Giry leads Raoul down to the Phantoms lair. The Phantom captures Raoul and tells Christine he will set him free if she agrees to marry him. Christine begging the Phantom finally makes him understand that people fear his soul and behaviour, not his face. She kisses him and he, understanding finally, releases both Christine and Raoul. Both flee from the lair and leave the weeping Phantom. When the mob storms his hide out, the Phantom vanishes and leaves only his mask behind.
The Phantom of the Opera playing in London now in its record-breaking 31 year, is still hot stuff. Regularly sold out shows and tourists from all over the world are rushing to see the show. So what is the secret to success? Surely, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous songs do not hurt the cause. Hits like “Phantom of the Opera”, “Think of me” or “The music of the night” are known far beyond the borders of musical business.
However, in the London production the actors filling the characters with life are definitely part of the big success of the show. Scott Davies, former Raoul and now Stand-by for the role of the Phantom since several years, is the one filling the mysterious character of the Phantom with life. The Scottish who has been trained at Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama is definitely a must-see. In his very own way he interprets the role fabulously. Especially the desperate and angry side of the Phantom is something he completely understands to transport to his audience. When he breaks down on stage sobbing, you feel like crying along and comforting the Phantom. On the other hand he plays the angry and creeping side of the Phantom so well that you might want to seek shelter under your seat so that his range is not hitting you. His singing as well as his acting skills are flawless.
Similarly flawless is young Dutch actress Celinde Schoenmaker who plays the role of Christine Daaé. Schoenmaker, who previously made her West End debut in Les Miserables playing the role of Fantine, gives the character a lovely new and fresh touch, away from the normal dancer and opera singer. Although she sings the notes without any hitch, her Christine seems to be more modern, maybe even kind of approachable. With both male leads of the show she plays a passionate relationship and therefore really seems torn between the Phantom and Raoul.
Royal Academy of Music alumni Nadim Naaman, although giving a constantly good performance, flourishes during act two. His passionate love for Christine as well as the hate towards the Phantom are nearly tangible. Furthermore, with his brooding dark eyes and handsome face, he is not only voice-vice a perfect fit for the role, but also in looks.
The duo of Lara Martins as Prima Donna Carlotta und Paul Ettore Tabone as Ubaldo Piangi seems to share a special bond. Tabone as Piangi is letting his Carlotta be the shining star she wants to be and shares the spotlight with her only, when the Diva allows this. Martins seems to bloom in this relationship. She plays the Diva in sheer perfection. Both Tabone and Martin come from an opera background, which compliments their performances and allows that we see the dream team of London’s Phantom of the Opera.
Jacinta Mulcahy as Madame Giry, ballet mistress of the Opera, although being present in many of the scenes, seems less dominant than Girys before her. Most dominating about her seems her voice, when she disciplines for example her ballet girls. Her facial expressions on the other hand seem a bit soft and less dominant sometimes.
The role of Meg Giry, Christine’s fellow dancer and best friend as well as daughter of the ballet mistress, is in the current cast played by Daisy Alice Hulbert who previously understudied the role. Hulbert, who has been trained at Elmhurst School for Dance, gives a great Meg. She has a lovely voice and dances as well as acts perfect. Completed is the leading team of the musical by Siôn Lloyd (Monsieur Firmin), Mark Oxtoby (Monsieur André) and Philip Griffiths (Auctioneer/Monsieur Reyer). All three of them make a great fit for their roles in acting as well as in singing. Griffiths, who has been part of the West End production of Phantom of the Opera for more than 25 years and holds the Guinness record for longest-running cast member in a West End production. From the first moment, when he appears on stage as auctioneer, he catches the audience’s attention.
Next to the leading team, everyone on stage as well as front house and backstage gives everything to make the evening for the audience unforgettable. Stage design, choreographies and the famous 27 piece orchestra draw the audience under their spell and make the visit at Her Majesty’s Theatre unforgettable.