Book: Arthur Kopit
Music: Maury Yeston
Director: Dawn Kalani Cowle
Reviewer: Emily Gardiner
Phantom, by Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit, is another musical also based on the 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux and first produced in 1991, it has enjoyed 1000 performances worldwide. But coming to London this year, it makes its first professional appearance in the UK. Set in the opera house in Paris at the beginning of the 20th Century, during the explosion of the modernist movement when the streets were full of artists, poets and street singers, Phantom follows the story of Christine, a talented young singer, and her involvement with Erik (better known as the Phantom), a man with a face so grotesquely disfigured he cannot remove his mask. Living in the bowels of the theatre, Erik offers singing lessons to Christine, exercising power over her and eventually falling for her, with tragic consequences.
As well as being a tragic love story, the show can be seen to explore themes of trust and family, as well as a societal fixation with beauty and appearances and its ostensible need to demonise those who are different.
The show is very well put together with thoughtful use of minimal set and props, resulting in some mesmerising moments; in one particularly striking scene, lanterns are used alongside perfectly tight choreography and smoke effects to create a search party for the Phantom that has ‘invaded the Opera’. This combined with the sheer vocal strength of every performer, the scene is truly breathtaking.
The show largely owes its brilliance to the cast. They sing with astounding strength and it is their talent, energy and clear commitment to the performance that brings life to an originally uninspiring musical score. There are particularly stunning performances from Kira Morsley as Christine and Kieran Brown as the phantom, both displaying similarly strong and impressive vocal agility, and an equally strong performance from Pippa Winslow, who captures wonderfully the insufferable diva Carlotta, providing much of the show’s humour.
There is a certain duality between comedy and tragedy in the piece (which succeeds in having more loyalty to the original novel than Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version), showcasing yet more talent from the director and cast who are all able to pull off the depth and tragedy of such a piece alongside moments of comedy.