Saturday, July 28, 2007

Me and Federici: The Phantom of the Opera (1)

UPDATE 1: review below
UPDATE 2: Production photographs (by Jeff Busby) added.
UPDATE 3: Brisbane and Sydney dates announced...

I read in today's Herald Sun that the best seat in the house at The Princess Theatre is Stalls Row H, Seat 19. Well, dear reader, I'll let you know who's in that seat... cos they'll have to climb over me to get there.

Tonight, dear reader, I am in The Zone. :)

It's almost twenty years since I first saw Phantom. It was the second or third performance at the Majestic Theatre on West 44th, a year after the London opening. The Broadway production poached the three original stars: Crawford, Brightman and Texan Steve Barton... still the best Raoul I've ever seen. (There have been another 8000 performances since in that theatre alone!)

That night, I had a seat in Row AA. Absolute front row of the "Orchestra". Cos of the configuration of the pit, I was actually closer to the stage than the conductor... But more of this later! Time to hit the road!

The hottest tickets of the year await!

"Right this way Mr Boyd..."
Anthony Warlow directs me to my seat.

Here's an edit of the review that ran in Monday's Herald Sun.

The Australian production of Phantom of the Opera -- the tenth in the world -- ran like clockwork when it opened in the haunted, beautiful Pricess Theatre in 1990. We were gobsmacked by costumes, awed by the lake scenes and the scene changes, touched by the music... but don't try telling me we were ever scared of the chandelier!

Revisiting the show, "shock of the old" has replaced "shock of the new." Phantom's stagecraft is still excellent, still impressive, but it's no longer an end in itself. That allows us to focus on the opus. It's easier to follow the musical themes, to follow the music box chimes through the pageant of the masked ball at the start of the second act to the final, plaintive "Christine, I love you."

It's easier, too, to delight in Lloyd Webber's impish sense of fun (the mock ballet music) and real skill with discord (the whole Don Juan Triumphant opera-within-an-opera thing).

But familiarity is a twin-edged sword. It makes us ultra demanding. Ultra critical. We want voices to match -- or beat -- the original cast recording. (We get them.) We want drama. Emotional truth. We want to be touched.

For most of the night this Phantom is merely perfect...

And that's where this show surprised me. Thrilled me. For most of the night, it's merely perfect. Ana Marina has an exceptionally full-bodied voice. The ageless John Bowles makes a good Raoul. With a serious does of the flu, Anthony Warlow is still a booming, overwhelming presence. Even the minor characters (like Nadia Komazec's Meg Giry) have stellar voices.

In fact, it's all a little bit too perfect. I kept wishing for a mistake in the pit to remind us that the music is played live. (Bowles provided the excitement of the night by jumping in with the right line at the wrong time! Warlow and conductor Vanessa Scammell coped admirably.)

But the final scene is like nothing I've witnessed before in a music drama. If you've seen Anthony Warlow, you know what a superb actor he is: his mighty Enjolras in Les Mis (a performance which made it onto the international cast recording), his charismatic Papageno in Mozart's The Magic Flute, his show-saving Archibald in The Secret Garden, the list is long. But, here, he supercharges the final stand-off. He is the tortured tyrant, willing to do anything to get the girl.

If the rest of the cast follow Warlow down this path, if they look for the dramatic monster behind the musical mask, if they treat Phantom as an operatic passion play not just a naff old musical, then it might live again for years, not just months.

2008 dates:

QPAC, Brisbane, from February 6.
Lyric Theatre, Sydney, from May 11.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Blogger Born Dancin' said...

A large group, split into several splinters, preferred to sit together - as happens - and as a result I was offered seats closer to the Golden Mean. Another result was that my mother got to sit in H 20. I'm glad. It really was worth it tonight. Having first seen Phantom from the back of the crutch-and-toothpick crowd 14 years ago, with the same mum -well, it's a different experience up close.

Sorry about the stepping over, too! Work. Of anyone, you understand, I'm sure.

1:33 AM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

It certainly is a different experience up close. Heh! First time I saw it in Australia, I took my mother. Despite the fact that I was reviewing for The Melbourne Times, we were in the nosebleeds. I took her again, a few years later, not to an opening night, and managed to buy house seats smack in the middle of row H. So, yeah, been there... :)

Funny, too, that the Herald Sun should make such a big thing about the best seat in the house. Who was in it? Age Musical Man Jim Murphy. (And, blow me, there's not a person I know who would begrudge Gentleman Jim "pride of place"!)


P.S. Work? God, you didn't have to phone one in at interval like Cathy Lambert, did you?

6:51 AM  
Blogger Born Dancin' said...

I guessed that was Jim! Overheard his first name and joined the dots.

You're close on the work thing, too.

What did you think of the new Christine, btw? I've seen her understudy in rehearsal and while her voice isn't a operatic, she does bring this kind of nervousness to the role that I think it deserves.

11:39 AM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

What did you think of the new Christine, btw?

Scuse my slow response!

I liked the fact that she seemed to appear out of nowhere, just another face in the chorus... as she should. I liked that she wasn't an instantly-recognisable Marina Prior, say.

I liked her voice a lot. Not as glassy as Brightman or Prior or the usual suspects. A great mezzo weight. I thought she overdid the ingenue stuff. She overacted Christine's inability to act, if you see what I mean.

So in the scene from Don Juan Triumphant, when the Phantom is about to reveal himself having murdered Piange, she's too busy playing the debutante opera star to give the scene (in the opera within the opera) the drama it deserves, and which is so evident in the music.

3:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have seen many productions of Phantom around the world, and have to say Ana Marina was the best Christine iv'e seen by far in all aspects. I actually thought her acting in Don Juan was just outstanding and made perfect sense, she gave just the right amount of drama and sensuality the scene needed, so I can't agree with you at all. Infact her acting throughout the show especially 'Wishing you were somehow here again', was acted with conviction, passion, emotion and with great depth of charater and was completely believable. "Christines inability to act'? I really don't know what you are talking about?
I was truly blown away by Ana's performance, she was perfect. They certainly the casting right on this one.

1:58 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Please note I said Christine's inability to act, not Ana Marina's. The decision was made by the director/resident director. It weakened the scene. I'm inclined to agree with you about AM. She has the potential to be a great Christine. Up there among the best.

5:32 PM  
Blogger dri aquandrian said...


I hate you.


I wanted to see Anthony! I was cheated, we got an understudy instead who murdered the role when he so didn't have to!

We wuz robbed. *sobs heartily*

So I adore you as usual but right now I hate you very much.

schizophrenically yours,
dri sobbing in the corner

8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



dri sobbing, is that like dry blowing? (i can't believe I typed that either.)


12:55 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home