Argus Tonight Review
There has been many a spectacular production in the Artscape Opera House over the years but never anything as visually overwhelming as The Phantom of the Opera.
I could have said the same about Toerien’s productions of Les Misérables and Cats on their opening nights but Phantom surpasses both.
It is beautifully sung, well acted and gorgeously costumed, a feast of eye candy from beginning to end. And the technical hijinks work splendidly. Upgrading the Artscape opera House has been well worth it.
Indeed, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a giant chandelier fall towards you in the audience or watched a gondola being punted towards you across a lake in the eerie catacombs under the Paris Opera House, the setting for this 19th-century romantic tale of obsessive love.
The story is based on a thriller by Gaston Leroux. It centres on a lonely, reclusive figure of deformed visage who dwells in depths of the opera house which he holds in terrifying thrall. As the story opens, the new owners of the venue are quick to find this out.
The Phantom, whose presence is introduced in voice-over, is soon seen scurrying about, a mask covering half his face. He is obsessed with an ingenue opera singer, Christine Daaé, whom he has been secretly teaching.
He wants the management to cast her in place of the resident prima donna, Carlotta Guidicelli, but the management is reluctant.
The impatient Phantom becomes more insistent, eventually throwing down the gauntlet – or rather an opera of his own which he demands that the management stage.
But when the Phantom realises Christine is in love with a handsome young aristocrat, Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, he becomes particularly rash and precipitate. But, in the nature of these things, love finds a way.
All the positive clichés apply in a well-directed show like this. There is simply never a dull moment. Even while the eye is drinking its fill of the visuals, the ear is responding to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s glorious music, with those often exquisitely lovely lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe.
Gillian Lynne’s choreography is delightfully suited to the ballet sequences in the operas-within-a-musical staged in the course of the story.
There are 10 scenes in the first half and each is a gem for one reason or another. For instance, the Phantom punting Christine through the labyrinthine underground in the build-up to the his big number, The Music of the Night. It, along with Raoul and Christine’s All I Ask of You, are probably the best known songs from the show.
André Schwartz is a superb Phantom, a dominating, chilling presence, looking every inch the part, and he sings splendidly.
Petite Amy Hudson is a lovely Christine, and this role surely ensures a great future for her in musical theatre. She sings beautifully and must have won the hearts and minds of all who saw her on opening night.
Another career this production has surely launched is that of the personable Brennan Holder as Raoul. Trained as an actor, he too sings with great passion. He and Hudson make a perfect romantic couple.
There are several other impressive performances further down the billing. Pauline du Plessis as Carlotta is stunning to say the least, a dominating presence in all her scenes.
Another powerful presence is Elizabeth Frandsen as the stern ballet mistress. A delightful figure is Marcus Desanado as the portly Piangi, who sings opposite Carlotta.
There is clever casting – the well matched long and short of it – in the amusing Pieter Tredoux and Jonathan Taylor as the frazzled management types saddled with the increasing hassles the Phantom is causing.
Malcolm Terrey is on comfy ground as the auctioneer in the opening scene whence the story goes into flashback. It is also good to see an agile Johan Jooste back on stage as the slave master in the Hannibal ballet in Act One.
Two consecutive Act One scenes, both effectively septets, linger with me. The first, in which the management pleads with Carlotta to stay, has Pauline du Plessis on brilliant form.
It is followed by a scene from an opera called Il Muto in lavish Restoration costume in which she is again prominent as she sings Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh – until the wonderful bass, Sebastian Zokoza, comes on as the Fool – and steals the scene right away from everyone. Absolutely brilliant theatre.
The second act opens with another piece of sheer brilliance. It is New Year’s Eve, the cast, all in fancy dress, are mounted on a staircase, a picture of glitz as they break into the splendid Masquerade, another lyrical gem featuring le tout ensemble.
The singing throughout is impressive, and the Australian musical supervisor, Guy Simpson, has worked hard at bringing it to this standard.
There is so much detail in the production that I cannot wait to see it again. Catch it while there are still seats!
By Derek Wilson
Director: Harold Prince for Pieter Toerien and the Really Useful Group
Cast: Andre Schwarts, Amy Hudson, Brennan Holder, Jonathan Taylor, Pieter Tredoux, Pauline du Plessis, Marcus Desando
Venue: Artscape Opera House until May 31