How does one write about a work of art? Cameron Mackintosh's touring production of The Phantom of the Opera is exactly that and brought the house down at the Birmingham Hippodrome last night. March 19 was apt for the final press night of the current tour as the show is also marking its 11,000th performance in the West End. That itself shows the incredible draw that Phantom has some 27 years on.
Being one of my favourite musicals of all time, there were high expectations all round for this new production of the classic tale. Having seen the show in the West End and Las Vegas a few years back, it would be very interesting to see how Laurence Connor's vision would differ. As soon as the overture rings out, it hits you in a spectacular fashion. It is a completely fresh and original take without losing elements that we all know and love.
The set fits the Hippodrome stage like a glove and could easily be a resident show there. You could be forgiven for thinking it would be tired after being on the road for a year but there is nothing lethargic about this production.
Paul Brown has done an unbelievable job with the set design; the amount of levels used is fantastic and although the set was predominantly multi-purpose, each scene looked brand new. Brown used the revolve to great effect,and small touches such as the floating candles in the Phantom's lair all added to the finesse. Of course the chandelier is a star in itself and although perhaps not as present as in previous productions, it set the scene at the beginning perfectly and sitting directly underneath it meant we got a surprise at the end of Act One!
Paule Constable's lighting was exquisite. She is notoriously excellent in whatever she turns her hand to but she used Brown's set design to light through on occasions creating beautiful images throughout. Constable made the set and Maria Bjornson's legendary costumes look increasingly stunning. At key moments, we also had video and projection by Nina Dunn which really added to the drama and worked well.
It is wonderful to have a company of equal weighting with no celebrity casting. Although this formula sometimes works, this production does not need it in the slightest. We have first-class calibre musical theatre stars in Earl Carpenter, Katie Hall and Simon Bailey as well as a wonderful ensemble cast.
Hall is most definitely the stand-out performance for me as Christine; she is utterly mesmerising and it is difficult to look elsewhere whenever she is on stage. She has been ill for the past few days but there was no sign of that at all last night. Her vocals are spot on - pure and passionate - and her acting and dance abilities are beautiful. Carpenter too gave a rousing interpretation of the Phantom, frightening, seductive and certainly one of the best. Simon Bailey had one of the toughest jobs in my opinion.
The entire company and the brilliant orchestra make Andrew Lloyd Webber's music sound as beautiful as ever with some added orchestrations by David Cullen. The choreography was also incredibly strong by Scott Ambler.
There is nothing whatsoever to criticise about this production. It is your last opportunity to see the touring production at the Birmingham Hippodrome so PLEASE book your tickets now. It is showing until May 4 2013 - you won't regret it.
Photo: The Phantom Of The Opera UK tour website