One of the most popular musicals in the world returns in Singapore for the third time. Gwen Pew tells us why the longest-running show on Broadway is still worth watching.
3 Aug 2013: Few shows can cause the hair at the back of the necks of an entire audience to stand up with just five notes played grandly, sinisterly on an organ, the wayThe Phantom of the Opera can. It’s no secret that it is one of the most popular musicals in the world – and the longest-running show on Broadway, having just celebrated its 10,000th performance there last year – but it also means that there is a tonne of pressure on theatre companies not to screw it up. Happily, Lunchbox Productions(together with The Really Useful Group and BASE Entertainment) gave a very solid performance as the musical returns to Singapore for the third time (and proving a saving grace for the last production we saw at this venue: a completely lacklustre version of Dirty Dancing).
Based on Gaston Leroux’s French gothic novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, the legendary tale is about a hideously disfigured – but musically gifted – magician who exerts a reign of terror over the people of the fictitious Opera Populaire (based on the Paris Opera House) while trying to make the beautiful singer Christine Daaé fall in love with him, by disguising himself as the Phantom of the Opera.
Claire Lyon’s Christine is every bit as angelic as her character should be, yet still possesses an admirable dignity and does not come across as a weeping damsel in distress, while Anthony Downing enacts the part of Raoul, Christine’s lover, with gusto. However, it is Brad Little’s performance as the alternately terrifying and pathetic Phantom that shines. Having played the role more than 2,250 times both on Broadway and on world tours, he subtly and skilfully brought out the mystique and tragic nature of the ‘Angel of Music’, hell bent on revenge after seeing Christine fall in love with Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny. Little’s commanding voice is made even more haunting as it is echoed around the hall by an excellent sound crew. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score is also beautifully performed by both the cast and the orchestra, who captured the passion, conflict, tragedy and suspense in every note.
We are likewise impressed by the stunning sets – the opulence of the gilded opera house contrasts starkly with the misty, candle-lit murkiness of the Phantom’s underworld – all of which are set up and cleared in a moment’s swiftness. However, while the famous chandelier was raised ceremoniously to its place above the audience at the start of the show, with all eyes focussed on its grand ascend, the scene where it was supposed to crash down didn’t turn out to be quite as dramatic as we had anticipated. Instead of a heart-stopping smash, it came down at a relatively slow speed over the crowd before swaying gently towards its landing on the stage, plastic beads tapping against each other. The orchestra tried its best to heighten the tension with a crescendo, but unfortunately the moment was lost.
That aside, this is a thoroughly enjoyable performance worthy of the hype and publicity that it has received, so go forth and embrace the ‘Music of the Night’.