Rose & Crown Theatre, London
Book by Arthur Kopit
Music & lyrics by Maury Yeston
Directed by Dawn Kalani Cole
|Kira Morsley sings as Kieran Brown looks on
Phantom is the "other" musical based upon Gaston Leroux's classic horror-romance, The Phantom Of The Opera. Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit wrote their show for Broadway in the early 1980's but whilst under development Andrew Lloyd Webber's show opened and plans for the Yeston/Kopit production were suspended. It was not until 1991 that the show first played to an audience and this production at Walthamstow's Rose & Crown Theatre marks its UK premiere.
It is an ambitious project from director Dawn Kalani Cowle. Set in, under and on the rooftops above, the Paris Opera House it demands spectacular settings and whilst the scenery is simply defined in the show, Cowle broadly succeeds in creating the story's different locations on a shoestring budget.
Perhaps the only similarity between this show and that other mega musical is that both productions have the Phantom's tutelage of Christine and the love between teacher and ingenue as a central theme. That though is where the similarities end, as this Phantom's plot and also its villains are a refreshing alternative. To say any more of the story would be to spoil, but to learn that the disfigured, ghostly Phantom, is in fact just a man called Eric (albeit with a "k"), does give the show a Pythonesque moment of mundanity that the writers could never have foreseen.
Kieran Brown a seasoned West End trouper, is Erik the Phantom. Masked throughout, his performance offers a great display of acting through voice, movement and also via his eyes that are clearly visible (excuse the pun) in such a close up venue. Vocally, whilst Brown is subtly good, Yeston does not give him showstopper numbers and he rarely makes the spine tingle.
Christine however, played by Kira Morsley is a soprano treat. The flame-haired Australian stuns when she sings and hers is a performance to relish. Her admiration for her masked maestro is convincing and her ability to combine the fresh-faced naivete of her character, with a deep understanding of the power of love is what musical theatre is all about. See this show if for no other reason than to experience the vocal delight that Miss Morsley provides.
Other notables are Pippa Winslow's wonderfully wicked Carlotta, whilst Tom Murphy's theatre-manager Carriere gives a well performed explanation of the Phantom's back-story and Elizabeth Atkinson's Belladova is a cameo role that is fabulously played.
A modest flaw is Aaron Clingham's band. He needs to drill his hard-working musicians with a touch more polish and whilst the ensemble numbers were a joy to hear, too often the music drowns out some of the solo performances.
It's a credit to Cowle, the theatre and the company that there is such talent to fill this off West End venue. This is a grand show, well cast and with lofty aspirations.
Runs to 31 May 2013