Me and Federici: The Phantom of the Opera (1)
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.
QPAC, Brisbane, from February 6.
Lyric Theatre, Sydney, from May 11.