Phantom of the Opera – Her Majesty’s Theatre

I have loved Phantom for over a decade. I listen to the soundtrack on a weekly bases. I have the 25th anniversary edition on DVD. I cannot put into words the joy that Phantom brings me. It is everything about the production that I love. From the music, to the lyrics, the characters and the costumes. Every part of Phantom is seared into my mind.

It might surprise you then, to know that I have only just seen The Phantom of the Opera on the West End. It has taken me 16 years to see Phantom and I am forever grateful to my parents for taking me to see it as my 30th birthday present.

We had front row seats – which I was totally surprised by – and were sitting right in front of the orchestra pit. I always think that musicals/plays with a live orchestra are just a little more special. I constantly found myself peering over the edge, watching as the skilled musicians warbled their way through a series of emotional and intense pieces of music.

I collect theatre programmes and the Phantom’s had a lot of facts about the musical that I appreciated. It made the experience more exciting for me.

The Phantom of the Opera is one of the most successful pieces of entertainment of all time, and has a success that spans the world. The Phantom has been performed in 35 countries – England, USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Eire, Austria, Sweden, Germany, Holland. Switzerland, Scotland, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Wales, Estonia, Russia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Philippines, China, Taiwan. Czech Republic, Thailand, Turkey, and Finland.

It amazes me that the Phantom has touched so many people and created so much entertainment over the 33 years it has been running.

I know some people don’t like front row seats at the theater, some argue that the middle of the stalls offer the best view, while others regard the middle of the royal circle as having the best views. I think it all comes down to personal preference. I’ll always prefer to be as close as possible because it means I’ll be able to see details, as opposed to being far away and not being able to see a thing thanks to my glasses prescription.

As the orchestra began to play the opening lines of the music, a giddy smile began to creep onto my face and it remained there for the entire performance. I must admit, I probably looked like a grinning loon but I was having way too much fun to care.

I was so excited for the musical to start, when the chandelier started to move, my Mum flinched! To be fair though, it does sweep into the audience and misses the heads of the conduction, front and second row, by a hairs breath.

The chandelier is made up of 6,000 beads (35 beads to each string). It is 3 meters wide and weighs 1 ton. The original chandelier was build by 5 people in 4 weeks.

I was entranced by the performance. I knew every cue, every lyric and ever character as they moved around the stage and performed. The first act takes you all the way to ‘All of you (reprise)’, and though I wasn’t singing along out loud, I was definitely singing along in my head!

There were a lot of funny bits that I wasn’t expecting, which made it really fun.

Seeing the Phantom’s deformity up close was something special. However, I’ve never felt like the Phantom is a redeemable character. I know a lot of people route for the Phantom and sympathize with him. I’ve see the Phantom fan fiction out there, which romanticize the Phantom and turn a blind eye to his criminal actions.

I think, if the Phantom wasn’t a vindictive killer, then he might have been a little redeemable but as it is, I can’t stand behind a character who kills without warning and kills without a conscience. Also, as amazing as the Phantom’s makeup is, realistically, he’d be dead. No one can walk around with their skull showing and still be alive. It just doesn’t happen. This has always irked me, but it is one of the only things that irks me with the Phantom.

The Phantom’s makeup takes 2 hours to put on and 30 minutes to take off. The face is moisturied, closely shaved and then the prosthetics are fitted, setting immediately, before 2 wigs, 2 radio microphones, and 2 contact lenses (one white and one clouded) are placed.

‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is obviously a big song, and the most well known of the musical and it was done with such artistry and power that it was impossible not to feel touched by it. I had chills running through my body while it played, and the scent of the smoke machine didn’t make me cough – as it usually did – as I was so absorbed in what I was watching/listening.

Each performance has 230 costumes, 14 dressers, 120 automated cues, 22 scene changes, 281 candles, and uses 250 kg of dry ice and 10 fog and smoke machines.

Phantom is so much more than a musical. It’s a machine of creativity, with each cog has a unique part to play.

The second Act started with ‘Masquerade’ and took us through to the end of the musical. I think I was more giddy during the second half – if that is at all possible – and my heart was beating so fast through the performance.

I almost had a small panic attack during Masquerade, because, a few minutes into the song, I realised that not all the actors on stage were real. To make it look like the stage was busy with masquerade guests, they’d dressed mannequins and had them at different levels on the stage. I have a mannequin phobia. It’s quite hysterical. I could feel it starting to happen during that song, and had to work very hard to stop the attack and focus my eyes on the characters who were real!

There are 130 cast, crew, and orchestra members directly involved in each performance, which is why I wasn’t expecting the mannequins, I thought there would be enough actors to create the scene.

The set design for the Phantom is exquisite. The craftsmanship that has gone into every part of the set is almost mesmerizing at times. It makes you feel like you’re experiencing something so unique and full.

2,230 metres of fabric are used for the drapes, 900 of them specially dyed. The tasselled fringes measure 226 meters. They are made up of 250 kilos of dyed wool interwoven with 5,000 wooden beads imported from India. Each one in handmade and combed through with an Afro comb.

I’m telling you, those fabrics were amazing!

My favourite song in Phantom is entitled ‘Notes/Twisted Every Way’. The beginning of the song is rather amusing, with many characters on stage moaning about the number of letters the Phantom has sent but in the latter part of the song, Christine is taken from Raoul protecting her from the Phantom, to him wanting to use her to catch the Phantom. It is Christine’s break in the fear and the pressure put upon her. She knows that whatever she does, she cannot win. I have always found it to be a very emotional song and a very intense song. I always felt like it was the turning point for Christine to reclaim her mind back from the ‘angel of music’.

Phantom is a pricey theatre experience but it’s worth the money you pay. Her Majesty’s Theatre is an old theatre, which still has the old style of seat – which I find very comfy – and the wall decals and the paintings on the ceiling are beautiful works of art. There were more tourists in the audience than there were British citizens, which really does credit to show how wide of a net the Phantom can cast.

Seeing the Phantom is an experience that will stay with me forever. It was a magical experience that has been permanently seared onto my mind. I will stay forever grateful for having the opportunity to see it and forever thankful to my parents for buying the tickets and organizing the outing. I was blown away by the entire performance.

Usually when I am watching something in the theatre, I spend the second half wondering whether I am going to give a standing ovation and mustering the courage to do so. Sometimes I do stand after some deliberation and other times I chicken out, because my anxiety has talked me down. I didn’t have that issue here, from the moment the curtain came up and the audience began to clap, I shot out of my seat and clapped, while my cheeks burned with the act, I was fully committed to standing and felt the performance had well deserved the standing ovation from me. I saw others stand but it was only a partial ovation, there were many that didn’t stand – which is fine, because everyone has their own opinions.

Would I recommend this to others? 100% yes. Would I see this again? Absolutely. Am I still giddy? Yes. Am I listening to the Phantom soundtrack as I write this? …Maybe!

For those who are unfamiliar with The Phantom of the Opera story, here’s the synopsis:

0n the stage of the Opera de Paris, 1905, old stage props are being auctioned. The elderly Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, is the major buyer and he seems emotionally affected by his purchases. A broken chandelier is produced. The auctioneer recalls its connection with the mysterious tale of the Phantom of the Opera nearly 50 years earlier. The music begins as the working portion of the chandelier is lit. Like magic, the lit portion starts to grow to full size. Finally, it rises to its former position in the auditorium as the stage of the Opera reverts, in flashback, to the grandeur of the year 1861. The great soprano Carlotta Giudicelli is rehearsing the opera Hannibal.

As she sings her aria, the backdrop crashes down. The chorus insist that this is the work of the Phantom and a frightened Carlotta refuses to perform that evening. Meg, who performs in the Opera’s ballet, suggests that her fellow dancer Christine Daae should take over. As Christine sings for managers, André and Firmin, the scene changes to that evening’s performance where she enjoys a great success. The Opera’s distinguished patron – Raoul as a young man – recognises Christine as a childhood acquaintance.

In her dressing room afterwards, Christine confides to Meg that she has a mysterious teacher whom she has never seen. She associates this disembodied voice with her dying father’s promise to send an ‘angel of music’ to watch over her. Raoul de Chagny asks Christine to supper. As he leaves, the Phantom, angry at Raoul’s familiarity with his protégée, commands Christine to look in the mirror. She sees him, then takes his hand and disappears with him through the mirror.

The creature leads Christine deep into the caverns and waterways beneath the opera house and across a subterranean lake, lit by candelabra. When they reach his secret lair, he plays a huge organ and sings of his shadowy, sensual world of music. The next morning, Christine wakes to the sound of the Phantom composing at the organ. She snatches at his mask and reveals his horribly disfigured face. Although he is enraged, he is reluctant to return her to the theatre and only does so after realising that her absence will cause a search.

Messages are then delivered from the Phantom. Raoul is forbidden to see Christine and another decree orders that Christine be given the leading role in the next opera, Il Muto, while Carlotta is to take a nonsinging role. Carlotta is furious. To keep her with the company, André and Firmin flatter her outrageously and privately assure her that she will, after all, play the star part.

They have reckoned without the Phantom. In the first performance of Il Muto he ridicules Carlotta by making her croak like a toad. Then a stagehand is found murdered. Christine takes Raoul up on to the roof of the theatre where they will be safe from the Phantom. She tells him everything. He comforts her and confesses his love, which she returns. The Phantom witnesses their kiss. Christine completes the opera in Carlotta’s place. As she takes her curtain call, the great chandelier crashes to the stage.

Act Two opens on New Year’s Eve. Everyone is gathered at the Opera for a masked ball. It is now six months since the chandelier incident and Raoul and Christine have secretly become engaged. At the height of the festivities, the Phantom appears on the Grand Staircase dressed in red and wearing a death’s-head mask. He presents the score of a new opera, Don Juan Triumphant, and commands that the Opera stage it. In the notes to his opera, the Phantom orders that Christine not only take the primadonna role but that she should return to him for more tuition.

Confused and afraid, Christine seeks comfort at her father’s grave but even there she is haunted by her angel of music. As he calls her to him, the figures of her father and the Phantom seem to merge in her mind. Raoul appears and breaks the mesmeric influence by carrying Christine to safety.

During the premiere of the opera, the Phantom murders the leading man and takes his place opposite Christine. He sings passionately of his love. At the climax of his song, Christine tears at his mask to expose his hideous deformity to the audience. Screaming, he grabs her and they disappear, pursued by theatre staff.

Raoul, the first to reach the Phantom’s lair, is trapped and a rope is dropped over his neck. The monster offers Christine a choice: succumb to him or see her loved one die. Christine, feeling both terror and pity, approaches the Phantom and kisses him. The kiss has a magical effect. The creature releases Raoul and urges them both to cross the lake. As they leave, he whispers, ‘Christine, I love you’. The Phantom covers himself with his cloak as the mob breaks in. The cloak is snatched aside. Only his mask remains.

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