There was a time when Phantom felt like it was haunting the outskirts of London’s West End while newer, brighter and shinier musicals grabbed the spotlight. Yet lockdown has somehow given this productional a new lustre and life. The staging has never looked more spectacular. You’d think I’d never seen a show by the way I genuinely gawped in delight when the Phantom and Christine gondoliered through the misty catacombs as gleaming golden candelabras emerged from the floor. During the bombastic Act 2 opening number Masquerade, a glittering staircase fills the stage, adorned by a cast in lavish Venetian Carnival costumes as they belt out “Take your fill, let the spectacle astound you.” Well, we did, and it did.
With its abundance of dry ice and synth-infused soundtrack, Phantom could easily seem dated, and yet this sparkling and slick relaunched production seems perfectly of its time and ours. When the heavy bass notes of the organ thundered out the opening bars of the title number I got goosebumps. That it’s immediately followed by the opulent Music of the Night is, frankly, just showing off – and we haven’t even got to Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again and All I Ask Of You.
Much has been made of the casting of Lucy St Louis, the first black leading lady to play Christine in the West End. All I saw was a powerful actress who brings strength and shading to a tricky role that can easily become a fluttering victim, and a stirring soprano to the big money notes scattered lavishly throughout that sumptuous score. She’s matched by the dashing and dynamic Rhys Whitfield as her earnest suitor Raoul, his voice soaring alongside hers.
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Killian Donnelly sings beautifully in the title role, handling the multi-octave challenges with aplomb. He’s clearly made the choice to present a melancholy and mournful Phantom, often drifting disconsolately through his scenes. It doesn’t quite work for me. I prefer a Phantom with a darker, dangerous edge.
As my guest said afterwards, “You shouldn’t know whether to feel terrified or turned on.” When Donnelly allows himself to unleash his full voice and the character’s pain and rage it is electrifying, but there wasn’t enough of it for me.
The supporting cast are strong but, again, I would have liked just a little more here and there. Perhaps just a little more egomaniacal campery from Saori Oda and Greg Castiglioni as the preening opera stars Carlotti and Piangi. But this is splitting hairs, just shy of becoming a monstrously preening critic myself, and a matter of personal taste.
What is undeniable is that this show delivers world-class staging, music and performances. It thoroughly deserves to pack them to the rafters (and catacombs) for another thirty years.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA IS PLAYING AT THE PRINCE EDWARD THEATRE, LONDON