Oh. My. Gosh. Wow!
Yep, that about sums up the first 30 seconds of the curtain rising for Phantom of the Opera at our Sydney Opera House. And that’s a huge call, considering the massive expectations of this updated version of an old classic.
Granted, this adaptation by Cameron Mackintosh of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 legacy London production has enjoyed rave reviews throughout its run in the UK and US since debuting in 2012, but did we really want someone tampering with our Phantom? I’d say it’s a resounding yes! Those first 30 seconds are just a taste of the perfection to follow.
There’s new direction by Laurence Connor, brand new scenic design by Paul Brown, (think mirrors to heighten the illusion and a staircase gliding magically from a wall), lighting design by Tony Award-winner Paule Constable, sound by Mick Potter, new choreography by Scott Ambler and the original, Tony Award-winning costume design by Maria Björnson showcases a breathtaking new look.
Australia is the third country to see the production, originally scheduled for September last year, postponed because of COVID, and of course that begs the other question, did Sydney have room for another Phantom production after the Handa Opera version on Sydney Harbour in March this year?
Yes again. Indeed it does. There is no comparison between the two. One is an event; the other is sheer mastery of talent and technique.
Handa is a complete magical experience. Nothing can, or ever will, compare with sitting out in the open, overlooking a stage jutting over the harbour with the spectacular backdrop of our bridge, the sparkling lights of Luna Park and Sydney’s boat life chugging quietly past. Let’s face it, anything could be staged in that environment and you’d feel robbed if you weren’t enchanted.
The immediate challenge for Opera Australia and the Really Useful Group was performing Phantom in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, a considerably smaller stage than the one presented on Mrs Macquarie’s steps. Add to this a 37-strong cast and 27-piece orchestra and you have one of the largest musical productions ever to be staged in this country. You have a big show, with big sets, big costumes, big music, oh and a big, very big, chandelier.
And it all works exquisitely, a feast for the eyes. Masquerade, the costume ball, is an absolute standout with sharp choreography setting off rich, vibrant costumes, which seemingly move and float from just a breath of air. I actually preferred the staircase gliding in and out rather than permanently dominating the stage; the gondola on the underwater lake was eerily chilling, while the Phantom’s lair was satisfactorily clandestine. And yes, there was copious flame throwing to add to the drama.
But it’s the cast that really sets it apart. It’s Australian, (boy are we blessed with talent in this country!) led by Josh Piterman (Phantom), Amy Manford (Christine) and Blake Bowden (Raoul Vicomte de Chagny).
Piterman and Manford have both performed their respective roles on London’s West End, managing to get in half a dozen shows together, to create an engaging chemistry. Maybe it’s the smaller stage which magnifies their relationship, whatever, having seen quite a few Phantom shows, the intimacy between these two is electric. It’s clear Piterman fully understands the Phantom, his angst is palpable, his voice commanding. Manford meanwhile is quite simply Christine, she gets it. Her range and extraordinary emotive control sparks perfect empathy in all her performances, in particular Wishing you Were Somehow Here Again and Think of Me.
This is just a short nine-week Sydney season before Phantom heads to Melbourne. If you’ve seen it all before, see it again, because you’ll see something new. If you’ve never seen it, be prepared for an impact on the senses unlike anything you’ve seen before. Don’t miss it.
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
- Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
- Until Sunday, October 16
- Tickets from $89 here
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