It’s easy to take The Phantom of the Opera for granted. It’s been an unavoidable part of the theatre-going world’s psyche for over 25 years. Practically everyone’s seen it and even those of us who hadn’t seen it before this performance felt like we had, such has been its prominence in modern popular culture.
So a quarter of a century on, and having under-gone a significant face-lift, does Phantom still have the power to surprise and enthral? Well, yes and no.
As pure spectacle it is undeniably impressive, even if there is a suggestion that it has been ever so slightly squeezed to work in the space of The Grand Theatre, Leeds. The set and costume design by Paul Brown and the late Maria Bjornson are truly dazzling.
It is also surprisingly ambitious. The actual opera content is undoubtedly on the light side but there’s a substantial amount of it. Quite a bold gambit for a production that underneath it all is still squarely aimed at the mainstream. Indeed in the numerous portentous moments you can still feel the ghost of the 20-something Andrew Lloyd Webber, cocky and arrogant off the back of a string of massive hits, believing anything is possible.
It does feel dated in places. Several of the now overly familiar songs evoke an earlier era of musical theatre and when the electro-synth powers through the semi-classical score I expected Barbara Dickson to come strutting out sporting a three-foot perm. Oddly though, this also works in Phantom’s favour. Many modern musicals seem to start fast and only pick up speed from there; the slower, more sombre pace of Phantom actually makes it feel strangely fresh and different.
The experienced cast are slick and impeccably well-drilled with special mention going to Katie Hill, outstanding as the fragile Christine.
Ultimately, personal reaction to the show depends on the individual’s willingness to buy in to the overblown and unashamedly hokey love-triangle at the heart of the story but for a show to be running this long and to continue to pack out theatres it would suggest there are still many people who are.
The Phantom of the Opera runs at The Grand Theatre, Leeds until 15 September.