In all honesty, I never thought I’d have the opportunity to see Phantom of the Opera again.
The 1986 musical (yes, a musical – not an opera) premiered in Australia back in the 90s with the talents of Anthony Warlow, Marina Prior, and the late great Rob Guest. I was lucky to witness the 2007 production with the return of Anthony Warlow in the title role of The Phantom. This year, Opera Australia and The Really Useful Group, in association with Cameron Mackintosh, present a new reimagined production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, which has now opened at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre.
Based on the 1910 novel by French author Gaston Leroux, Phantom of the Opera tells the tale of a disfigured virtuoso who haunts the Paris Opera House and is madly in love with a beautiful and talented young dancer-soprano. Like all passionate and exciting romance stories there’s drama, a love triangle, and plenty of chaos. Whether you’re new to Phantom of the Opera, or you’re an avid theatre goer, I promise you, this production will not disappoint.
There is a reason Phantom of the Opera is a classic. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s compositions for this spectacular musical, which is over 36 years and counting, has stood the test of time. If you’ve seen Phantom of the Opera before, the music is just as good as you remember, if not better, with songs such as ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, ‘All I Ask of You’, and ‘The Music of the Night’ performed with a 27-piece orchestra and fantastic talent consisting of Mietta White as sweet Meg Giry who was the cutest little scene stealer with her facial expressions and her character sneakily eating chocolates, Jayde Westaby as quite possibly my favourite Madame Giry ever, Paul Tabone as the silly and hilariously entertaining Ubaldo Piango, Giuseppina Grech as the vocally perfect and fierce opera diva Carlotta Giudicelli, David Whitney as Monsieur Firman, Andy Morton as Monsieur André, I loved Raphael Wong‘s voice and adored his time on stage as Joseph Buquet, and Blake Bowden, Amy Manford, and Josh Piterman in their lead roles as Vicomte de Chagny – Raoul, Christine Daaé, and The Phantom, respectively. The entire cast are truly incredible, and I cannot fault them.
What’s new to Phantom of the Opera (besides the already mentioned cast) is literally everything else! New and smart direction by Laurence Connor, costuming from Tony Award-winner Maria Björnson which somehow appears more vibrant and fresher, the video and projection design by Nina Dunn is extremely clever, as well as Mick Potter’s ingenious sound design, and Paul Brown’s set design, right down to the iconic chandelier (practically another character of the show), is brilliant.
This production of Phantom of the Opera isn’t just a musical, it’s an experience. The show makes full use of the space its given, making you feel like you’re there at the Paris Opera House and that you play an important part in the overall story. After all, theatre cannot exist nor thrive without its patrons.
Phantom of the Opera is a rollercoaster adventure full of great music, depth, and heart. With a story that you’ll be discussing with your friends long after the show is over, at various moments throughout the musical I was beaming, gasping in awe, curious, and then delighted with the directional changes of this new version. During the production’s final moments, I was even moved to tears.
Blake Bowden is superb as Raoul, childhood friend and love interest of Christine Daaé. His voice is stunning, and Bowden is irresistibly dashing and vocally flawless in the role. Not to mention that I am seriously envious of how well he looks in those 1910 era suits as the rich viscount. The chemistry he has on stage with Amy Manford’s Christine is so sincere, wholesome, and extremely believable. On the other hand, Bowden’s stage presence with Josh Piterman’s Phantom is undeniable, and you can truly feel the tension between the two characters, even when they’re not on stage together. The three also look like they’re having just as much fun on-stage as you are enjoying their performances.
Amy Manford’s Christine is wonderful. Her voice is sweet, impressive, enchanting, and so is her stage presence with her portrayal as the secret songbird. In the many versions I have seen depending on the performance, admittedly, I haven’t always liked Christine as a character. But I loved Amy Manford’s Christine; she is more thoughtful, attentive, hesitant, and feisty. A change that I wholeheartedly welcome.
I cannot conclude this review without mention of Josh Piterman. I’ve admired Piterman’s talents in the past but was happily surprised with how effortless and amazing his portrayal of The Phantom really is. His on-stage chemistry with Mansford’s Christine is electric, sensual, and captivating. Understandably, there have been many legendary men who have played this iconic role, but there is also a reason why Piterman was summoned to perform as The Phantom on West End in London back in 2019.
Josh Piterman truly makes the role his own. The way he commands the stage, it’s no surprise how mersmerising his Phantom is to Christine, because I was feeling it too! He has mutant lungs (this a compliment), I genuinely adore his Phantom, and we are so incredibly blessed to be able to witness him in the role here in Australia.
For someone not new to Phantom of the Opera, I admit this production is truly magnificent, is still full of so many surprises, and I am insanely jealous of all those witnessing Phantom of the Opera for the first time with this new modern take on the renown classic. This production is exquisitely phenomenal and a true triumph to the musical’s legacy, lovingly cementing its indisputable greatness and timelessness.
Phantom of the Opera is now playing at Arts Centre Melbourne until February 2023 and is a must-see experience.
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Photography by Grant Alexander.
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