Theatre review: The Phantom of the Opera held on an epic scale

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 December, 2014, 4:29pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 January, 2015, 2:02pm

The Phantom of the Opera

AsiaWorld-Expo Arena

Reviewed: December 23

This is The Phantom of the Opera's third outing - but its first to be staged in an arena - here in Hong Kong. And what a difference this venue makes.

Used mostly for rock concerts, the 4,000-seat AsiaWorld-Expo Arena wasn't purpose-built for theatre productions. The local producers of this Andrew Lloyd Webber blockbuster musical - Lunchbox Theatrical Productions and David Atkins Enterprises - had to build the technically elaborate set from scratch, with equipment and expertise from Britain.

The result is impressive: the stage is large enough to convey a sense of grandeur of the 19th century Paris Opera House, where the story is set, as well as the eerie atmosphere of the underground labyrinth in which the eponymous protagonist resides. The big venue also allows installation of all the mechanics necessary to produce various special effects/illusions, most notably the omnipresence of the "opera ghost" - think Phantom meets David Copperfield.

And the rest? Well, The Phantom of the Opera didn't run for 28 years for nothing; and it's still going strong, with its first Russian language production opened in October. Based on a 1910 novel by French writer Gaston Leroux, the musical tells the dark tale of the Phantom, a disfigured musical genius haunting the depths of the Paris Opera House, who falls in love with a young soprano named Christine.

What really gives this show such longevity is Webber's haunting and memorable score. Songs such as the title number, The Music of the Night, All I Ask of You and Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again are among the best known in the contemporary musical repertoire.

The touring cast is excellent as is the acoustics of the arena. I could hear clearly all the voices (and the lyrics) in the septet Prima Donna.

Andrea Creighton, rich in tone and extensive in range, is the scene-stealing Carlotta; Tina Walsh's Madame Giry has a strong stage presence; while Ernst van Looy and Jason Ralph are delightful as the bumbling Monsieur Firmin and Monsieur André. Their brilliance overshadows the more subdued Claire Lyon (Christine) and Anthony Downing (Raoul).

The star performance goes to Brad Little who gives the title role much emotional depth and dramatic complexity. His solos are fresh and powerful.

However, the arena doesn't always work to the show's advantage. The occasional blinding glare from the two large screens on the sides of the stage is distracting. And the climactic dropping of the chandelier lacks impact because of its distance from the audience.

But if you are looking for a different kind of musical theatre experience, this production is it.

Kevin Kwong

Until January 18