Generally, I'm not one for musicals, let alone operas. But Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera is an exception. For me, it represents an evangelical rebirth of sorts, the light at the end of a dark tunnel - for the second time now. This show has something for everyone and more besides.
Based on a novel by Gaston Leroux, this is the tale of an enigmatic “phantom” (Peter Cousins) who lurks beneath the Paris Opera House, “haunting” and hating all who dare enter. Except that is for chorus girl Christine Daae (Shona Lindsay) who he falls in love with and teaches to sing so magnificently that she s elevated to show Diva. His passion turns to jealousy when she succumbs to the advances of old flame Raoul (Mike Sterling). The two forces collide with devastating effect.
What makes The Phantom of the Opera so compelling is the emotional and visual feast it conjures up. Every element of this complex production is drawn together with flair under Harold Prince's direction. Maria Bjornson's sets and costumes dazzle, creating a 'pinch me, am I awake?' sense of reality that left me wondering why on earth I recently paid the admission to the latest Hollywood, F-X blockbuster. The speed and dramatic changes of the set s shape and texture confounded my mind and still leaves the scientist in me wondering 'just how did they do that?'.
In this state, the mind is seduced into unequivocally believing the story and the characters. The performances are equally brilliant, causing the scenes to flow from one to another without effort. The only time I surfaced from the hypnotic lull was to question how a young and naive Christine could play the tempestuous heroine in the phantom's opera with such ease. Perhaps what they say about chorus girls....
The wonderful piece “Masquerade” epitomises the play's mystical energy. A grand staircase dominates the stage, rising from the floor, winding into the ceiling s shadows, and creating the ideal forum for every one of the cast to show off. Their costumes flash and glimmer so brilliantly that your attention is pulled every which way, recreating the buzz and excitement of an East End flower market. And when the chorus is sung, the power of the unaccompanied voices leaves you feeling humbled.
The Phantom of the Opera has the power to appeal to everyone, regardless of age, sex, culture and even language. As is the case with reborn believers, our work is to spread the faith to the masses. And, like it or not, you'll be whistling the choruses on your journey home.