A musical theatre mainstay that continues to enchant, The Phantom of the Opera is grand entertainment - over the top but artful.
The Phantom of the Opera is a juggernaut: a show beloved by legions of devoted ‘Phans’ and one that has been seen by over 140 million people around the world, grossing over $6 billion. In its 30-plus years of existence, it has become a phenomenon, with this marking the fourth time the Phantom’s gondola has travelled to our shores. The show opened this week and will play in Singapore for over a month.
Based on Gaston Leroux’s gothic horror novel, The Phantom of the Opera is set in the Paris Opera House towards the end of the 19th Century. A mysterious deformed musical genius known only as “the Phantom” has become something of an urban legend among the company of the Opera House. The Phantom has taken young ballet/chorus girl Christine Daaé under his wing, becoming obsessed with nurturing her talent and consequently, with her. The opera’s wealthy patron Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, enters the fray. He is a childhood friend of Christine’s, and when they rekindle their relationship, the Phantom becomes jealous and maniacal, stopping at nothing to win Christine for himself.
Just as The Phantom of the Opera has its die-hard supporters, the show also has its detractors. There are some who think it is gaudy and overblown, and that its emphasis on blockbuster spectacle over artistry does a disservice to theatre. While there is some validity to this point of view, it’s hard not to be seduced by the Phantom. There are few musicals which justify ticket prices more than Phantom does. There’s the Phantom’s candlelit lair, the roof of the Opera House with its angel statue, the grand staircase during “Masquerade” and of course that chandelier. It’s a complete experience, one which wraps the audience up and doesn’t let them go; everything you want in a night at the theatre.
The music is enthralling, with many songs being immediately memorable. This is Andrew Lloyd Webber at his most Andrew Lloyd Webber, delivering not just lush melodies but also referencing existing operas for the shows-within-a-show mounted by the company of the Paris Opera House.
Songs like the title track and “Music of the Night” are so well known, that it’s easy to forget just how good the lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe are. “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” has a mournful wistfulness that explodes into heartache, while “Point of No Return” is fatalistic, passionate and ominous. “Masquerade” bursts with joy, but a spectre hangs over the celebration. Every song has its place, and this is a show with an absurdly high “humming as you leave the theatre” quotient.
One of the things that makes Phantom work as a musical is that the story is set in an opera house. While the show is billed as a romance, a big part of it is the backstage farce – it’s a show about showbusiness. The new managers of the Opera House are woefully ill-equipped to deal with the artists they oversee, let alone the Phantom lurking beneath. There’s a clash between the “show” and “business” sides, which provides Phantom some much-needed levity.
Jonathan Roxmouth’s Phantom is a charismatic presence, with the actor truly coming into his own during “Final Lair”, the emotional climax of the show. This is a maximally daunting role, and while Roxmouth might not be the strongest Phantom out there when it comes to the vocals, he brings the essential mystique to the character, engendering both sympathy and revulsion.
This is a character who does outright villainous things, but whom the audience gravitates towards because of his tragic back-story and because of his mystery. The Phantom has no baseline for healthy human interactions, so his idea of wooing a girl is to build a mannequin of her wearing a wedding dress. There’s a sadness to the character but we understand why he’s that way. Phantom is not a subtle show and the Phantom himself is not a subtle character, so the nuance that Roxmouth brings to the part goes a long way.
Viewed through a modern lens, there certainly are problematic elements to the story, most of which lie with its treatment of Christine. However, as played by Meghan Picerno, Christine is a fighter. She goes from giving up her voice and her power to taking it back and not letting the men around her define her, as they try to do for the entire show. Picerno has an excellent look of panic whenever Christine realises that the Phantom is nearby, and during the moments when Christine is happy, she really sells that.
Picerno plays the ending of "Think of Me" perfectly – as Christine begins the cadenza, she seems unsure of herself, then as she continues, she finds her groove, and ends triumphantly, having made a stunning debut. Those who prefer seeing Christine as more of a naïve ingenue might not love Picerno’s take, but Christine as a fighter is an interpretation which works.
Raoul typically gets short shrift. We’ve all heard it before: he’s boring, he’s the safe alternative, he’s a rich kid who didn’t do very much to earn what he has. Matt Leisy seems aware of all this and creates a Raoul who, while charming, also has what it takes to go toe to toe with the Phantom. Raoul is the most under-written role of the three principals, but Leisy does remarkable work with the material, making the character more of a challenge to the Phantom’s grip on Christine.
Beverly Chiat is hilarious and boasts a powerful soprano as the conceited diva Carlotta Guidicelle, while Melina Kalomas is a textbook Madame Giry, secretive and severe. As the hapless managers Andre and Firmin respectively, Curt Olds and James Borthwick are an entertaining double act, just the right pitch of goofy.
There are few pieces of entertainment that I love more than The Phantom of the Opera, which means I’m predisposed to enjoy it, but which also means I have expectations every time I see the show. This production mostly meets those expectations, and watching it was a warm reminder of why I became a Phan in the first place.
The Phantom of the Opera runs from 24 April to 8 June 2019 at Marina Bay Sands Singapore. Tickets start at $75 and are available here.
Review by Jedd Jong.
Photo credits: The Phantom of the Opera World Tour