When asked their favourite musical of all time, the two most common answers are Les Miserables and The Phantom of Opera. They are both considered timeless classics. Les Miserables is currently the longest running musical in the West End, and Phantom is the longest running musical on Broadway. Both have reached their 25th anniversaries, celebrated by concert productions in the O2 Arena and Royal Albert Hall respectively and each have been adapted for the big screen. With such outstanding reputation and this being my first experience of Phantom, I had eagerly anticipated the shows visit to Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre for several months. Although the show did not disappoint, I would not consider it to be at the same level as Les Miserables.
The prologue begins in an opera house, at an auction of old theatre props, including a shattered chandelier. The auctioneer talks of “the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera…. a mystery never fully explained”. Moments later, the ominous overture on the organ bursts out through the deadly silent auditorium as the glass chandelier comes to life. Time goes backwards twenty years and the opera house is now in it’s prime, mid way through rehearsals with slick ballet sequences and powerful vocals. The story tells the tale of the Phantom of the Opera, who haunts the opera house and instructs the owners of how it should be run, leading to consequences when they fail to meet his demands.
Like all shows, it is not all about the actors. The music and set were a key part in creating the illusion and immersing the audience into atmosphere of the opera house and of the Phantom’s lair. The revolving scenery and a stairway that magically slides out of the wall added to the spectacle. For lovers of the West End original, there may be a slight disappointment at the end of Act 1 where the chandelier famously drops from above the audience, which is missing from this production, presumably to accommodate to the different venues on the tour.
Throughout the show, I waited patiently for a climatic, spine-shivering performance from the Phantom, played by Earl Carpenter. However, such a moment never came. Instead it was the lead female character of Christine played by Katie Hall who instead stole the show. Her vocals were flawless, perfectly executing the iconic moments such as ‘Think of Me’ and the title number, commanding the audiences utmost attention with her stage presence. This was the kind of reaction I was expecting from the portrayal of the Phantom. It was as if Earl Carpenter was holding back a little; although the character is meant to have an element of self reservation and secrecy, the moments of power and darkness were slightly weak and left me wanting more. For these reasons, the final bow and standing ovation should belong to Katie Hall.
The Phantom of the Opera runs until Saturday 16th February, with student deals for specific nights where you can see the performance for as little as £15.