Shows simply do not come any bigger or better than this new production of The Phantom of the Opera, and anyone in the vicinity of the Empire who likes a good musical and doesn’t come to see this is seriously missing out.
With one week of its Liverpool stint already behind it and another to come, the press night performance suffered the misfortune of not only our Phantom, Earl Carpenter, being struck out of the game by illness, but also his understudy. So stepping into the breach came John Owen-Jones – veteran of apparently some 2,000 West End performances as the Phantom in his time, and a very welcome addition to the cast.
It was genuinely unfortunate to lose Carpenter – no stranger to the Empire stage, most recently as Peron in Evita and in We Will Rock You in recent years – but, our luck was certainly in to bag Owen-Jones, and whomever it is that the Phantom appears to be on your visit, rest assured you will not lose out.
The scale of this new Cameron Mackintosh production – marking 25 years of the show – is simply breathtaking, with practically no expense spared right from the prologue revealing the show’s famous chandelier, of which much has already been written. Each scene looks incredible and sounds even better – that huge, discordant signature ringing around the theatre with a clarity unusual for the Empire was a real treat.
The show is the story of a supposedly haunted theatre under new ownership, the management sceptical of demanding notes they begin to receive from the ‘Opera Ghost’. When the Phantom hears stand-in soprano Christine Daas, he immediately falls in love with his ‘angel of music’ and vows to make her the star of his own dark opera and his bride. But he is to compete with childhood sweetheart Raoul, determined to break her from his rival’s spell.
The costumes were beautiful from start to finish; the set nothing short of stunning, particularly the scenes where the Phantom took Christine to his underground lair.
There are hardly the superlatives to heap praise on John Owen-Jones’s performance as Phantom, perfectly capturing the character’s vulnerability, depravity and desperation. Alongside him, Katie Hall as Christine was simply excellent – a strong-willed female lead convincingly posessed by the Phantom without resorting to girly simpering. Angela M Ceasar as fiesty soprano Carlotta Guidicelli brought comic relief and an impressive voice to the production.
In a piece this outstanding it seemed churlish to find fault, only to say that a little more chemistry between Christine and her lover Raoul (Simon Bailey) wouldn’t have gone amiss, and a wobble of an otherwise impressive fountain during one of the Phantom’s big dramatic moments was almost a distraction.
Otherwise, this production is simply a reverie of theatrical dedication and accomplishment. It showcases the Empire at its very best, and offers some of the most exciting, beautiful musical theatre you could see anywhere.
The Phantom of the Opera is on at the Liverpool Empire until Saturday, March 9.