Phantom of The Opera- 35th Anniversary

The Phantom of the Opera has reached its 35th year in London’s West End (not including the last 18 months that I am absolutely not going to talk about). To celebrate this milestone, a gala performance was held at Her Majesty’s Theatre with a packed audience of celebrities and “phans” of the show, some of whom judging by the conversations around me, have been enjoying every one of those 35 years, coming back time and time again to visit this landmark amongst West End shows.

In a West End now largely filled with minimalist sets and smaller casts, it is a real treat to sit back and enjoy Phantom’s huge cast, lavish sets and costumes. The ensemble makes an impressive sound, filling the stage with brilliantly choreographed movement. The scene in which the Phantom and Christine journey to his underground lair is iconic and does not disappoint – with eerie lighting, candles and candelabra rising from the dry ice to add to a sense of impending horror. And yes, the chandelier is still there.

This London production reopened in July with a new cast, albeit one with some familiar faces from previous productions.

As the Phantom, Killian Donnelly’s performance is intoxicating, he manages to give this damaged and dangerous character a full range of emotions. Donnelly’s Phantom exudes menace as he manipulates the ingenue Christine and threatens the pompous Opera House management team with a growing list of demands. But despite this, his performance is underlined with a sense of vulnerability making him a much more rounded character than the monster he is perceived to be. His vocals are flawless – going effortlessly from a rasping whisper to a soaring crescendo. His rendition of ‘Music of the Night’ is a masterclass in acting through song.

Taking on the role of Christine Daae is Lucy St. Louis. Her performance builds steadily from Christine’s first tentative notes, truly coming into her own in the second act. Her version of ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ is truly mesmerizing, delivering absolute raw emotion in a performance leaves you in no doubt that she is feeling every single word. Her eventual showdown with the Phantom is fabulous.

Much of Phantom’s popularity is focused on its titular character. With much of the focus on his fixation with Christine, it’s easy to overlook the romantic lead in the piece – Raoul, played by Rhys Whitfield. This character could do with better development as he is fairly one dimensional. That said, ‘All I Ask of You’, sung with Christine towards the end of the first act is a highlight of the show, giving us a perfect romantic duet that shows off their stunning voices and excellent chemistry.

I did not find the supporting characters quite as convincing as the show’s three main roles.  Although they are all excellent singers and provided some comic relief, the diction needed to be clearer in some of the sung-through sections of the show and I felt that these characters were somewhat overshadowed by the absolute melodrama associated with the main plot. I did also wonder how accessible this plot would be to somebody not familiar with the show as the show is such an assault on the senses that it does not allow for much character development or back-story. These are, however, minor quibbles as overall this is a spectacular production.

This was a very special evening for any theatre lover. On arrival in the theatre, each seat had a red rose on it, a gift from “OG, the Opera Ghost. At the end, everybody in the theatre was given a glass of champagne with which to toast the show and invited to join the cast in singing Happy Birthday, making us all feel that we were playing an active part in this well deserved celebration.

Champagne, roses and a serenade from a mysterious masked man? Phantastic!

Review by Penny Walshe

You can buy tickets for Phantom of the Opera and find out more here.

If you like this review you might also like my review for & Juliet, Come From Away and Les Miserables

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