Monday, 24 September 2012

Phantom of the Opera (25th Anniversary UK Tour)

I saw the 25th anniversary tour of Phantom of the Opera in Bristol back in June. I was originally supposed to be seeing it in May but I had to change the date so I could go to a friend's wedding. I saw John Owen-Jones play the Phantom, Katie Hall play Christine and Simon Bailey play Raoul. I can't remember any of the other actors in the production I'm afraid. I really enjoyed the production and I'll be seeing it again in Birmingham next March. Earl Carpenter will be playing the Phantom then. Originally I was going to hold off on reviewing this 25th anniversary tour until I saw it for the second time but I've noticed that this 25th anniversary tour has been quite controversial so I just thought I'd defend it and explain why I liked it.

The 25th anniversary tour production is still basically the same show as the one that's playing in London and New York but it has different sets and different direction. A lot of fan reaction to the show has been quite negative but I really liked it! It's far better than what people are making it out to be! I thought that the majority of the changes that were made were good and actually worked really well. Most of the new staging is actually really cool. I enjoyed almost everything about this touring production and I only have a few minor complaints. There are far more positives about this production than negatives. The West End version is still better of course but I thought the 25th anniversary tour version made for a very interesting alternative and I'm glad I saw it. This touring production is still very much Phantom of the Opera and if you go in with an open mind then you'll be likely to enjoy it.

I won't mention all the differences between the 25th anniversary tour version and the West End version in this post, just the ones that really stood out to me. I thought the new journey to the Phantom's lair during the title song was amazing. Christine and the Phantom go down a long flight of stairs and it reminded me a bit of Christine's journey to the lair in the Lon Chaney film. I loved the Phantom's lair itself too. They didn't use the dark, scary looking lair that's used in the West End version. They made the lair richly decorated and it actually looked like a house - just like in the book! I liked how they staged the Prima Donna song as well. They did what the 2004 film did and had the song take place throughout the whole opera house. I think it's a bit stuffy to have Notes and Prima Donna both take place in the same room so I approved. I liked how they staged Why Have You Brought Me Here? too. Towards the end of that song Christine steps towards the edge of the roof and there's an implication that all of the stress that she's going through is making her feel suicidal (which is very Leroux). Raoul then beckons Christine away from the roof and starts to sing All I Ask of You. The chandelier didn't come down at the end of Act One in this version. I did miss the actual crash but the way they went about it was still really good. The chandelier swayed back and forth, started fizzling and sparkling, and then went out with a loud bang. That might not sound all that impressive but the bang was actually pretty shocking. It made a lot of people jump including myself! The chandelier not coming down was something that I found disappointing when I saw the 25th anniversary concert DVD but I can now say that it does work a lot better live. I thought the staging of the Masquerade scene was pretty good too. I did miss the grand staircase but at the same time I did like the fact that the song took place in a Hall of Mirrors. It seemed like a nice nod to Gaston Leroux's book since Erik builds a Hall of Mirrors in that.

That's not to say that I thought all of the changes that were made were good though. In fact there are some downright silly ones in places! I really didn't like how they staged Music of the Night at all. They didn't use the creepy Christine mannequin in this version, so Christine didn't faint towards the end of the song and the Phantom didn't catch her and swoop her off her feet. Instead Christine just gets tired and yawns so the Phantom just sort of... puts her to bed. It was a lot less dramatic and was kind of weird : S I wasn't keen on the Phantom blindfolding Christine for part of the song either. I thought the Phantom's costume in the Masquerade/Why So Silent? scene was rubbish because it was too much like Gerard Butler's costume in the 2004 film for my liking. I didn't like the fact that you don't get to see the monkey box until the final five minutes of the show. A tent keeps covering it the entire time. I think the worst change that they made though was having Christine slap Raoul during Notes/Twisted Every Way. I hated that!

But... I still really enjoyed the show and I still had a great time. Yes, it's not as good as the London version but it's still great and an interesting alternative. Most of the audience seemed to love it too! The leads were brilliant as well. Simon Bailey played Raoul when I saw Phantom at the West End back in January 2010. I thought he was pretty good then but I'd say he's even better now. He has a really strong voice and his Raoul comes across as very sweet and loving. I thought Katie Hall made for a really good Cosette in the 25th anniversary of Les Miserables and she was really strong in Phantom as well. I must admit that there were quite a few times when she kept covering her ears with her hands, which I think she did to try to convey Christine's anxiety. But apart from that her acting was really good and her singing was excellent and lovely. I especially loved her "tears of hate" line in the Final Lair scene. The way she sings that line is hands down the best I've ever heard! She BELTS out the word "hate" and puts a lot of venom into it! I'll try to include a link to show how awesome her delivery is. And as for John Owen-Jones, well, I've heard so many good things about him over the years. I know that many regard him as the best performer to have played the Phantom in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I was certainly impressed when I saw him in various YouTube videos and he WAS brilliant when I saw him. I think I still prefer Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom but JOJ was brilliant nonetheless. Now I'm really looking forward to seeing Earl Carpenter's Phantom in March next year.  I really want to see the show again at Her Majesty's in London at some point too. I hope to go again in 2014. That would make it four years since I last saw the show in London. I think it's safe to say the show would still be running since Phantom is still going strong! To round off the review here's a trailer for the 25th anniversary tour (so you can get an idea of what it looks like) and a video of Katie Hall's "tears of hate" line:

There are various Christines in this video. If you can't be bothered to go through them all just go straight to 25.17.

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