I was at the very first preview of Phantom in London. My memories of that performance were of a chandelier drop that went wrong, an unrecognisible (visually and vocally) Michael Crawford, a lavish and sumptuous production and a lush score. However, I remained resolutely unmoved by the experience though I recognise I am somewhat in the minority.
Now some 25 years or more later Phantom has a new production, albeit one that uses the original.and wonderful Maria Bjornson costumes, that is nearly as lavish. It is very well sung by a strong ensemble but still leaves me detached, admiring the stage craft but never getting swept up in the story. The problem, I think, is in the writing and not the production. There is so much story telling going on that you don't connect with the lead characters until about 2/3rds of the way into Act 2 and by then it is too late.
John Owen-Jones is a big-voiced and effective Phantom and Katie Hall is splendid as Christine Daae and made more of an impression on me than any previous Christines. Amongst the secondary characters Elizabeth Marsh as the formidable Madame Giry, makes a strong impression.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's music is undeniably memorable (though Phantom is not his best score) but I wish the lyrics were stronger.Obvioulsy there has been a lot of attention paid to the new scenic design but I feel an opportunity has been missed to revisit the structure of the show and the lyrics. Some of the orchestrations are sounding rather dated too. I can perfectly understand why the creators may not want to. They have a hugely successful show with legions of fans. However, they might have gained even more.
The new production as directed by Laurence Connor and designed by Paul Brown does not match the granduer of the Hal Prince original and possibly exposes more of the weaknesses of the piece. Though judging by the audience reception at the Playhouse, I am still in that minority.