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REVIEW: The Phantom of The Opera – 2012 UK Tour / Manchester Palace Theatre

Last night I attended only my second piece of regional theatre in about six years – get me!

I’ve been spoilt by working and living in the West End of London for that timeframe, and so it was with a small sense of occasion that I presented at the Palace Theatre, Manchester all excited to see The Phantom of the Opera‘s 25th Anniversary UK Tour. (OK, OK, so it’s not exactly ‘regional’ – but I’ve got to re-acquaint myself gently ha!).

I’m going to sum this one up right at the start – this is a superb West End quality show on the regional circuit (which is increasingly becoming the trend in the industry, to great cultural benefit).

Yes, for many shows, it may now be more expensive than the usual top price £30 seat offerings, and yes, the often controversial premium seating model has finally rolled out to the regions, however for the quality of talent, staging and sheer ‘event’ that you’re now getting for your money, it’s all more than worth it, in my opinion. It’s great that people now have the chance to see what is effectively a West End quality production, without any of the hassle and expense of leaving ‘home’ :)

In terms of The Phantom of the Opera, I was super excited to see how the staging had been re-imagined for the touring circuit, as Cameron Mackintosh and his production team had an awesome opportunity to recreate the show from scratch again, without any inherent props, staging or cast – so it was great to see that not only everything was ‘new’, but also that they’d realised that they actually needed to change precious little from the incarnation which has served the West End audience so well for the past 25 years!

Most people will invariably be excited to hear of the changes to the staging, and whilst they do exist, and generally, as expected, involve a little scaling down of the West End production, they are subtle and do not detract from the production in any way at all. For me, although London has the beautifully stunning and lavish set, I found that the Manchester touring set was very interesting to watch from a technical perspective, and of course it still retains the ‘wow’ factor for those who are after a visual rather than simply marveling at the vast array of opulent scene changes and prop movements, as I was doing. The monkey has been modernized a little, and looks less shabby, and the chandelier is similar to that of the 25th Anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall, though to give it credit, a lot more dramatic than that was, and I hear a rumour that later in the tour run, they hope to mobilize it a little more than the up/down motion that it currently works to (largely owing to the technical timescales involved in rigging kit like this against the technical touring schedule).

Perhaps the cutest change is when the Phantom is going down to his lair, rather than have the candles come out of the floor, instead they have a set of stairs rise up out of the wall – a nice little tongue in cheek nod to the staging of the original I felt, and for me, though it’s not as visually arresting, it was nice to get the song laid bare without all the theatrics and trying to work out how many different Phantoms are creating the illusion as they do in London. Speaking of illusions, the final illusion still exists, albeit in a different form, and as a ‘phan’ of the show, it was nice to see how they tackled this and changed it up a little.

John Owen Jones as the Phantom is possibly the most ‘ideal’ casting there has ever been for me – he was magnificent, and is, perhaps with the exception of the living legend, Colm Wilkinson, the best Phantom I’ve seen or heard on recordings! I really love his presence, his acting ability and that ‘roof-shakingly’ stunning vocal, which certainly would bring down the chandelier, to paraphrase/coin a phrase from the show!  Katie Hall does a sublime job as Christine, and all other members of the cast did magnificently well in their respective roles. The whole production was very well sang, and felt incredibly slick – it’s clear that they’ve put a lot of work in to this.

Incidentally, here is a clip of John Owen Jones at the 2011 Olivier Awards so that you can get a sense of why I love his Phantom so much!! :D

As always, it was wonderful to have an orchestra in the pit, and the surround sound at the Manchester Palace really shows this production off well, especially if you’re sat in the front stalls area, as we were.

After the show, we were incredibly fortunate to have received an offer from a friend to have a quick poke around backstage, which, of course, we snapped up! The main thing that struck me is just how MASSIVE the stage at the Manchester Palace is – it’s at least twice as deep as most West End stages! It was great to be on stage and get to see all the props up close, especially the boat, which was wrapped up in a duvet for the night, bless it! ha! Simply, you would not believe how many props are out back, nor how technically involved this show really is, and it was remarkable to see just how much work and movement was going on behind the scenes whilst we were all captivated out front. A PHANTASTIC experience, and it really just capped off the night for us.

There’s not much more that I can say about this show, that I’ve not already said – simply, it is a stunning show, and the UK Tour absolutely does the original justice, and is a MUST SEE for any theatre phan!

The Phantom of the Opera is currently playing at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until May 19th, before continuing on it’s tour of the UK. Further details, including ticketing and prices, can be found on the production’s official website.

John Owen Jones is currently playing the Phantom, until Earl Carpenter takes over on 1st October 2012 – midway through the Edinburgh run.

UPDATE: 9 July 2012 – they’ve just released touring footage – look how SPLENDID it looks!!!! :D

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