Review by Kate Gaul
“The Phantom of the Opera” premiered in London in 1986 in an era of excess. Back then shoulder pads were big, hair was even bigger and mega-musicals – many of them by Andrew Lloyd Webber – were a spectacular new phenomenon. “The Phantom of the Opera” has become one of the longest running shows in theatre history. The Meatloaf-esque sounds of the synth, drum machine and blasting descending organ riffs is an extraordinary sound coming from the Sydney Opera House pit (Music supervisor, Guy Simpson; Music Director, Anthony Barnhill)
The plot: Christine Daae (in this production, Amy Manford) is a dancer at the Paris Opera but is discovered to have a divine voice by the new theatre managers (David Whitney and Andy Morton), at the huffy exit of the opera’s Prima Donna, Carlotta (Giuseppina Grech). She sings at the opera’s opening night and her childhood friend, Raoul (Blake Bowden) who is now a Count, recognises her and everything appears to be rosy for her. Sadly, all is not well because it’s soon revealed that her voice is not god-given but phantom-given, as her “angel of music” has been giving her lessons and has been the cause of much mischief at the theatre. The Phantom (Josh Piterman) is a character who is outcast due to his scarred face and lives in the catacombs of the theatre, composing music. Both the Phantom and Raoul claim to love Christine and fights ensue.
Even though “The Phantom of the Opera” follows Christine, the “struggle” of both men to “win” Christine dwarfs her rags to riches story. Created for the male gaze both men seek to possess her and shape her into their image of her. Finally, the Phantom has Raoul in a noose and threatens to kill him if Christine does not marry him. Christine saves them both by kissing the phantom.
If I rejected all forms of media because they contained problematic elements, I would live in a very silent and still world. That’s the thing about the patriarchy—it’s so steeped into our mythos that it powerfully permeates all corners of our culture. Christine could drop both men walk away, go on tour as a Prima Donna instead. She doesn’t. The fair-maiden-in-a-love-triangle ensues, with both men feeling entitled to her affection. The “need for a man to protect me” trope is alive and well.
But what’s great about this production directed in Australia by Seth Sklar-Heyn? From the cast I adore Jayde Westaby’s Madame Giry – her still authority is a spectacular counterpoint to the colourful gymnastics across most of the production. Mietta White as Meg Guiry is a shining delight. As Christine, Amy Manford is exceptional. She is tender, luminous and sings with incredible confidence and strength. I was on the edge of my seat as she made her way down the side of a turret where each step emerged from the wall just as her foot was to reach each one. This, the gliding gondolier in swirling mist, the candle lit catacombs do not disappoint as part of the visual fireworks.
Maria Bjornson’s original costumes recreated by Jill Parker dazzle. The second-act ensemble “Masquerade” felt squashed on the Sydney Opera House stage but was dazzling none the less given the detailed array of costumes, body shapes and choreography (original choreography, Scott Ambler).
The production gets off to a spectacular start with a canvas - that covers the awaited chandelier - being sucked into its glass beads. Magic indeed. The now sold-out season will run its course in Sydney before heading to Melbourne complete with bolts of fire, jealous passion and a Phantom who lives on.