The Phantom of the Opera is back! After a Covid-imposed hiatus, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most successful musical is back in his birthplace, Her Majesty’s in the West End, in all its kitsch, gothic glory.
Well, strictly speaking, this is a tweaked version of director Hal Prince’s original production in 1986, although the only change most would notice is that the ghost appears from behind a little different from the statuary, and not at the top of the proscenium at the end of the first half to bemoan his betrayal – generating a slight loss of the wow factor. Oh and there’s that controversial reduction of the orchestra from 27 to 14 (shame on you co-producer Cameron Mackintosh for saving money after 18 months with no income, some shouted), which maybe did a bit. less climb the ropes. But in a show with this level of exhilaration and amplification, you couldn’t really tell the difference.
Present and correct were the multitude of drama, a no-frills rhythm and magnificent shows that make this tale (words by Richard Stilgoe and Charles Hart) the Gaston Leroux story of a disfigured man of musical genius who is hiding under the Paris Opera and covets after such an effective chorus girl. The unveiling of the cast arranged across a grand staircase – dressed in the multicolored colors of the most resplendent commedia dell’arte troupe and moving in the weird way of puppets – for the second act “Masquerade” elicited gasps (choreography by the late great Gillian Lynne). I loved the candelabra twirling out of the underground lake where the Phantom hides, even though they made me laugh in their absurdity.
The return of the musical stars the first woman of color in the London production, Lucy St Louis, to play the object of ghost worship, Christine Daaé. In a story where men take the initiative, all Christine’s main job is to stand there, looking surprised – St Louis did his best with that and grabbed his big solo, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, with two hands. His voice doesn’t stretch well though, and unfortunately conductor Simon Lee sped up through All I Ask of You, his duet with lover Raoul (a fairly one-dimensional Rhys Whitfield), too fast for this pretty. piece.
Yet other than the inspired Prince setting and strong support from the ensemble (strong here), all you need for a good ghost is a good ghost, and Killian Donnelly keeps its promises. His voice is loud, particularly low, and he has a spoonful more threatening than most. We didn’t get the sweet, falsetto voice that its first titular Michael Crawford forever associated with the role, but that crankier, meaner take on made the ghost’s sudden reduction to a crippled outcast, sobbing his love for Christine in. the last moments all the more piercing.
Like any indestructible work of art, The Phantom of the Opera is plugged into the myth. From Caliban to Quasimodo to Frankenstein’s Monster, the repulsive rejected figure with the beauty within has always been able to reach out and pull us back with a snap. Helped by the sumptuous airs of Lloyd Webber, this ghost too.
Reservation until February 13, 2022. Tickets: 020 7087 7762; phantomoftheopera.com