First things first. I've never seen Phantom of the Opera on stage. Ever. I've kind of seen the film version, I made my way through it from beginning to end once, but didn't really concentrate. I tried it again but never got all the way through it. So, what I'm trying to say is that I came to this sequel without any baggage. Also, let's get this out there as well. I love Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita (seen the original American cast three times), Cats and Sunset Blvd, so there is no bias there.
Unlike some in the internet world, I didn't come to the show with any expectations of loving, hating or being indifferent to the production. I heard a few musical excerpts on TV and they were nothing to write home about but often songs written for the stage don't work as well out of context. So, onto the show.
Much of this will sound familiar if you've been keeping up with reviews. First off, on the whole, nothing moved me, provoked me, made me think, made me want to hum along or made me forget that I was in a theatre. That last one was a very strange experience. For 98% of the show, I was very aware of my surroundings, the lights, the proscenium...that's always a bad sign. It didn't suck me in and there are a few reasons for this.
There has been alot of chatter about the story - it takes place ten years since the end of Phantom of the Opera, and since Christine has seen the Phantom. Since then, he has moved to New York's Coney Island and is still obsessed with her. Anonymously he invites her to the amusement park to perform but unfortunately for him, she is now married to Raoul and has a 10 year old son. That's the story. I personally didn't find it a problem. What I did have a problem with was the script. Not only was very pedestrian it also, and I don't care what anyone says, relies on having known the story of Phantom of the Opera.
Coming to it as I did, I wasn't aware of how the original story ended - I'm guessing that Raoul and Christin were married at the end but it could have happened between parts one and two. I'm guessing that Christine had to choose between Raoul and the Phantom, who knows. I may have to give the film another go. Anyway, to script - as it stands doesn't start as a whole new story, it is just a continuation of Phantom. It's as if there was really long interval and we have taken our seats for acts three and four. I just didn't get the importance of all these characters to each other and as a result, I didn't get involved or really care. And it has to have one of the worst endings I have ever had to bear witness to. Not so much the story but the direction. Director Jack O'Brien (the amazing Hairspray, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Full Monty and Broadways The Coast of Utopia) must have run out of time during rehearsals to figure out how they should handle that scene, It was embarrassing and it had the longest death scene I can recall. At one point I was thinking 'just die already'.
I didn't find the music that enjoyable. Having said that, there were two exceptions - 'Dear Old Friend' from act one is a humorous take on reuniting with people you don't really like and 'Devil Take the Hindmost' from act two which explores that darker sides of the main characters. Other than that I can't really recall any other except the title song which unfortunately has one of those melodies you have to work at to get out of your head.
I was mostly disappointed with the performances and some of the casting. Let's start with the Phantom, Ramin Karimloo (Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Sunset Blvd). He has a majestic voice, as can be expected, however, now don't take this the wrong way, I thought he was a little too short. I had a difficult time believing he was this powerful force, the manipulator of all, maybe I was expecting the movie Phantom. Christine (Sierra Bogess - Christine in Phantom of the Opera, The Little Mermaid, Les Miserables) also has a wonderful voice but there never seemed to be any urgency in her portrayal of the love torn character. In an early pivotal scene, she meets the Phantom for the fist time in ten years. I would think that her reaction would be 'shock, horror, oh my god!', what we got was 'goodness - it's you'.
Of the other three leads I found Liz Robertson as Madame Giry (original A Little Night Music, Side by Side by Sondheim and Eliza Dootlite in May Fair Lady at the Adelphi) suitably devious although she was given some really dodgy direction at one point. Summer Strallen (Maria in the recent Sound of Music, Janel Van De Graaf in The Drowsy Chaperone, Maisie in The Boyfriend) as Meg Giry and Joseph Millson (The Priory - Royal Court; Judgement Day - Almeida; Every Good Boy Deserves A Favour and Pillars of the Community - both National Theatre) as Raoul were entirely wasted. They do the best with what little they were given.
The sets were nice, the effects wonderful, the evening - flat.
There's nothing much else to say but I would like to comment on all the hubbub that was happening on the internet during previews. I am of two minds about the controversy surrounding early online blog and message board reviews. First, I find it really sad that people who purport to be theatre fans would write a review of the first preview or any other preview and not put it into the proper context. We all know that things change during those performance so not giving the show a chance to evolve is irresponsible, hurtful and unfair. On the other side, the producers cannot expect to go into previews, call them previews, not discount them and expect the audience to not think what they were seeing was the finished product.
Somewhere along the way, I think that some theatre fans have taken a wrong turn. More and more internet related activity is reported in on TV and in the broadsheets and I wonder if the 'power' has gone to the heads of some. I hope that we all can remember why we love theatre and support it no matter what.