Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical The Phantom of The Opera is a gorgeous operatic extravaganza that is a thrill to the blood and a sensual feast for the eye.
High melodrama is the key note from the start when the rich splendours of a rehearsal at the Paris Opera of Hannibal, complete with slave girls and elephant, is brought shiveringly short by the ghostly intervention of the phantom.
As warning blasts of brass from the 27-piece orchestra trigger our apprehension, the half-masked phantom appears behind chorus girl Christine’s mirror to lure her down through a labyrinth to the candle-lit intimacy of his subterranean world.
Using subtle vocal intonation and body movement in an extraordinarily moving performance, an almost unrecognisable Michael Crawford devastates us with the anguish and despair of the phantom, a freak ultimately failing in his struggle to overcome the disfiguring mistake of nature that has rendered him unloved since birth.
Sarah Brightman’s wide-eyed beauty and soaring soprano voice make something individual and touching out of Christine’s tussle between pity for the phantom and love for her friend and admirer, the Vicomte de Chagny (Steve Barton).
It is a lyrical high point when she expresses her sympathy for the phantom in Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, a melody that carries an eerie echo of the Pie Jesu from Lloyd Webber’s Requiem.
Meanwhile the evening, rooted in the Gaston Leroux novel, dispenses a great rolling buffet of musical delights.
And there is one particularly striking set piece stage by Gillian Lynne under Harold Prince’s direction as the huge drapes fall back to reveal the company poised on the Opera’s grad staircase for a masked ball, which is performed to the seductive syncopation of a bolero-like rhythm.
But as you rock back in your seat from sudden sunbursts of light, the reek of gunpowder and the impact of a chandelier crashing from the roof above the stalls to the stage, Michael Crawford’s magnificent performance permeates all to produce a dramatic unity ultimately aching with pathos.
Richard Barkley, Sunday Express, 12th October 1986