There are lots of good things about having a sister, but maybe the best one is that there’s nobody else in the world who would text me on a Wednesday afternoon to say “I want to see Phantom tonight. Are you coming? I’m paying.”
I’d seen it twice before (as had she: in fact, I’ve only ever been to see it with her, at her instigation), but the last time was a while ago and it turned out I’d forgotten quite a lot of it, which was a pleasant surprise – although the bits I remembered were the best bits, which are still the best bits even when you know what’s going to happen.
And it has a lot of best bits. Even now, after 25 years, it’s as dramatic a piece of stagecraft as anything I’ve seen: full of spectacle and illusion and trompe l’oeil (although I think that on the third pass I finally managed to figure out how all the tricks are done), and impressively ambitious in scale. And it’s smart. As the action breathlessly flits from Christine’s dressing room to the Phantom’s lair to a full-scale operatic performance from Hannibal, complete with giant elephant, we go from silent observers to members of the cast, playing the audience at the Opéra and applauding a performance we haven’t really seen. It’s clever and cheeky and it works.
I don’t want to talk about the music, because you already know it. I love it, but I can see why people wouldn’t, and there is a certain amount of mental juggling required to accept Andrew Lloyd Webber’s poppy compositions in the context of 19th century opera. I think you have to be postmodern about these things.
I do want to talk about the singing, because Sofia Escobar is the loveliest and most enchanting Christine I’ve ever seen – and what’s more she sounds just like Sarah Brightman (apart from her slight accent, which only adds to the charm). The casting director must have jumped for joy when they found her. John Owen-Jones is an appropriately menacing Phantom and has a voice to die for, and it’s not his fault he’s not as handsome as Ramon Karimloo, whom I hope one day gets to play this version of the character, rather than the toothless, daddish Phantom of Love Never Dies. Will Barratt and Wendy Ferguson are excellent as Raoul and Carlotta, and I reserve a special mention for Cheryl McAvoy as Madame Giry, because it’s the hardest-working, least-rewarding part in the piece, and she shines, despite having to wear all black and frown the whole time.
So I think I enjoyed it more this time around than ever before – but bear in mind that, as I have attested elsewhere, I am slightly obsessed with this show. That said, even if you don’t like what Phantom of the Opera does, it still does it better than anyone else.
[A note: I’ve said this before, but if you go, try to make sure you sit in the stalls, but not in the front few rows or the back few rows. The action happens all over the theatre, and the middle section of the stalls is the optimum spot for seeing everything.]