Phantom lives again

2012-02-10 11:32

Grand gestures and melodrama, obsession, love and soaring melodies make The Phantom of the Opera a must-see theatrical event. The stage craft alone makes it worth the price of a ticket, and coupled with Jonathan Roxmouth’s haunting and powerful turn in the title role, this is not to be missed.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s grandest romance, based on Frenchman Gaston Leroux’s novel, is – like the operas that have informed it – larger than life. It’s a glimpse into a world of splendour and wonder with an unspeakable spectre overshadowing it.

It is set in the Paris Opera House of the last quarter of the 19th century, a maze of passageways and hideyholes, alive with gossip and intrigue, that employed 1500 people and even had stables for horses.
It is in this place the Phantom stays out of sight while making his ethereal presence felt.

He forces the unblooded new owners of the opera house to put his pupil Christine Daaé on stage to sing and so begins a tale of unrequited love, madness and tragedy.
I previously saw a production of The Phantom of the Opera in London way back in 1994 – I had forgotten just how magnificent it was. And I remember it as an unforgettable moment in my theatrical memory banks.
It surpassed that memory to astound me anew.

The sedate opening scene culminates in the audience being flung back in time 50 years as this ill-fated love triangle is formed and tragically shattered. Sets, illusion, pyrotechnics and technical wizardry all play their part in this gothic masterpiece.

It’s amazing to think that this show, in its current form, has been continuously on stage in the West End since 1986.
It has made more money at the box office than any other stage play in history and more than films Avatar and Titanic.

More than 130 million people have seen it worldwide. What a feat and what a challenge for a local production team and cast who have to reproduce it exactly, while also finding a way to let their individual talent shine.
Andre Schwartz, who starred in the 2004 South African production, began as the Phantom for this run, but his voice was damaged and his understudy, Roxmouth, originally cast as Raoul, had to step in.

I did not see Schwartz perform so can’t make any comparisons, but Roxmouth, one of musical theatre’s brightest young stars, is mesmerising as the disfigured music maestro. His voice soared easily through the difficult notes of The Music of The Night, and his natural stage presence ensured on opening night he commanded the attention of each of the 1 870 people in the packed-to-capacity Teatro. When he took his bow, the audience who had been clapping loudly already stood up en masse to applaud him.

Anthony Downing sang beautifully as the gallant Raoul, as did Magdalene Minnaar as Christine, though her one piece of dialogue is delivered in a South African accent stripping a little of the Parisian magic for just that moment.
The comic roles, Hanlee Louw as Carlotta, Thabiso Masemene as Piangi, James Borthwick as Firmin and Jason Ralph as Andre, are brilliantly executed, breaking the melodrama with sparks of humour.

Angela Killian, most recently triumphant as another of Lloyd Webber’s creations, Evita, is the mysterious and fierce Madame Giry, and Cat Lane is her smothered daughter Meg.
So seldom do we get the chance to see no-expense-spared stage productions in these days of budgets and empty coffers – here’s your chance. There is no substitute for and no medium more powerful than live performance and this is a crowd-pleaser that will ignite a love of the theatrical in the most jaded of souls.

»The Phantom of the Opera is on at The Teatro at Montecasino, Joburg, until April 22. Book at Computicket

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