The Phantom of the Opera (Tour - Manchester)
The key to the success of this reinvigorated Phantom is a great cast and a brilliant look to the piece (of which, Paul Brown's fantastic set design is only one part) which makes it less staid and worthy of a 25th Birthday present for fans.
But also, Director Laurence Connor manages to do what he did with the tours of Miss Saigon and Les Miserables - in that, he adds so many wonderful elements, perfect pacing and ups the ante with regards to the emotional intensity of the piece - so much so - it feels like a new show.
My problem with the original is that however good the leads are, the role of the Phantom has often descended into something verging on parody. He scurries around with slicked back hair and a mask - carrying his prey - Christine and scaring theatregoers - but the emotional connection is often missing. Never more so, than in Joel Schumacher's film version.
But here, you care for him and John Owen-Jones breaks your heart in two as he imbues this 'creature of the night' with so much humanity. And he also allows us to see what lies beneath the mask beyond the physical scars.
Katie Hall is a stunning Christine as she is young, fresh and a relatively new talent, like her character. She was brilliant in the tour of Les Miserables but as a lead, she excels as she owns the stage and conveys fear, lust, love and a real sense of longing, which makes the love triangle between the Phantom, she and Raoul (Simon Bailey) seem far more believable.
She is in fantastic voice too - recalling a young Sarah Brightman, vocally. Bailey is strident, handsome and stoic, as required.
Owen-Jones had the audience on their feet on opening night and I am not surprised. Like his Jean Valjean - he invests so much emotionally into the role that his "Music of the Night" becomes a stunning love song and he manages to cover some of the plot holes - as he gives far more than is on the page and the result is beautiful.
Angela M Caesar's Carlotta and the double act of Andy Hockley as Monsieur Firmin and Simon Green as Monsieur Andre bring much needed humour to the piece and Elizabeth Marsh's terrific turn as Madame Giry the ballet mistress who knows the Phantom's next move, brings the right amount of knowing glee to the role - to stop it becoming cliched.
The entire company are on top form and they shine as much as the famous and imposing chandelier which hangs above the balcony - reminding you of how iconic the original piece is. As for the songs and music - the 80's style arrangements you recall from the pop videos are long gone.
Here, you realise how great and enduring the likes of "Think of Me" and "All I Ask of You" are, under the superb musical direction of Anthony Gabrielle. Kudos to Charles Hart, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe as these songs and melodies still have the ability to draw you into the narrative and leave you humming in the interval.
This new production of Phantom may not be as scary or thrilling as the recent Vegas version but many problems and niggles have been ironed out and replaced with a heartbeat. So the emotional payoff is far greater.
If you have not seen the original, you are in for a treat as this is not mangy like Cats - it's breathtaking. If you are already a convert, you are not wasting your money because like a Phantom virgin, you will feel like you are being touched for the very first time.