If you’re one of the 130 million people who have watched The Phantom of The Opera on stage, you might wonder why you’d catch it again. Rainer Fried, assistant director of the production playing between 16 July and 1 September at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands answers, “It’s timeless. I’ll tell you the way it changes: it’s with the cast.”
Granted Brad Little also performed the titular role in Singapore in 2007, but who wouldn’t want someone who practically owns it, having performed as the tormented masked character in more than 2,250 shows on Broadway, across America and Asia. New to our local stage is Australian Claire Lyon, as Christine Daae, while her love interest Raoul is played by South African Anthony Downing, who’s had smaller theatre roles in Europe.
What’s timeless about one of Broadway’s longest running and most popular musicals, is the story: a young opera singer is given music lessons by a mysterious, disfigured phantom who lives in the theatre. The phantom falls deeply in love with the young singer and tries to kidnap her when he realizes that she has fallen in love with her childhood sweetheart.
Opening with the loud echos of a pipe organ, the first half of the show builds up slowly as we learn about the workings of the Paris Opera House, and the various characters who work in the theatre are introduced. Perhaps the only stunning moment is when Christine first gets the chance to sing in place of Carlotta (Andrea Creighton), a diva past her prime, who draws laughs from the crowd.
Low-key in the beginning, Little starts to blossom with every note of “Mirror/Angel of Music”, as he serenades Christine while on a gondola, which glides across the stage lit with candles and fog to simulate the way to the phantom’s lair. The undeniable chemistry between Lyon and Little makes for a perfect performance of “The Music of the Night”, which Andrew Lloyd Webber often calls his most sensual song. Things thin out after that, with slow-moving songs and choreography, leading up to the climax.
Being far more experienced and playing the role of a professional singer, it’s not surprising that Lyon outshines Downing in their duet of “All I Ask of You”, one of the most instantly recognizable love songs from the musical. The first act ends with the Phantom floating down from the rafters of the set, where he was hiding and watching. Angered, he threatens Raoul and sends the chandelier crashing down on the stage in what was meant to be a highlight of the musical. The dramatic impact, however, is lost both because of how well known the scene is and how gracefully the chandelier descended over the audience’s heads.
Things pick up in Act 2, which opens with “Masquerade”, with a lavish backdrop featuring an imposing staircase and ravishing costumes of gold and silver, sequins, sashes, ribbons and frills. These colourful bling details, set against a backdrop of gloom and darkness for most of the musical, make for a spectacular scene, only to be let down by loose choreography and a relatively simple white, pink and blue gown on Christine.
Conflicted by her love for Raoul and gratitude towards the Phantom for all he’s taught her, Christine sings “Wishing you were Somehow Here Again” at her father’s grave, drawing thunderous applause from the audience, as it did at the end of all Lyon’s solos. The Phantom impresses with the next song, “The Point of No Return”, and for the first time, we appreciate Little, who seemed overshadowed by Lyon in their earlier duets
At this point, the Phantom has captured Christine and threatens to kill Raoul if she doesn’t agree to stay by his side forever. Christine then kisses her captor and convinces him that she is unaffected by his facial deformity. Touched by her act of kindness, the Phantom releases Raoul and Christine. At the press conference, Little says “This is the first time he is showing love, when he gives up Christine… He gives up the thing he has been yearning and longing for his whole life.” The Phantom disappears, leaving only his iconic half cut white mask behind.
Despite the spectacular moments of the musical and an undeniably perfect Christine played by Lyon whose voice was on par with Sarah Brightman, the occasionally uncoordinated choreography in most scenes involving the dancers as well as “Masquerade” was disappointing.
Little was slightly disappointing, as not all his moments showed the same mastery of the role, as did the finale. But he was engaging when responding to a question by the UrbanWire, where he said that he felt a connection to the Phantom’s visual deformity through his dyslexia. “What we all have in life are these secret deformities…. and it was because I was dyslexic, and I know what it was like to be called stupid, so I can relate to the Phantom.”
The awe-inspiring set design involving trick mirrors and a functioning gondola amidst a sea of candles made for convincing atmospheres that drew the audience in. That, coupled with timeless songs delivered by a commendable cast, The Phantom of The Opera is not one anyone should miss.