Review Roundup: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in Manila; Show Must Close 10/14

Manila, Philippines, September 19, 2012--After several previous run extension announcements, the international touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's mega musical "The Phantom of the Opera," playing at the main theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), must finally close on Sunday, October 14.

Producer James Cundall, CEO of Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, said in a press statement that "the unbelievable response of the Philippine audience to the show encouraged us to extend the run, adding 16 more performances."

"The Phantom of the Opera," which premiered at Her Majesty's Theatre in London's West End in 1986, and opened at Majestic Theatre on Broadway in New York City in 1988, tells the story of a disfigured musical genius' shadowy existence, and his love for the beautiful, talented ingénue, Christine Daaé.

Nearly 100 tons of set pieces and props; more than 700 stage lighting equipment and accessories, and around 230 Victorian style costumes by the late production designer Maria Björnson were shipped from South Africa, where the international touring cast last performed.

Seasoned South African actors Jonathan Roxmouth (Phantom) and Anthony Downing (Raoul), and Australian soprano Claire Lyon (Christine) headline the Manila production.

Below are heaps of mostly rave reviews that Filipino theater critics have written about the show.

Sam Marcelo, BusinessWorld: Even the most blasé of viewers will appreciate how the show's technical aspects have held up after more than two decades. The costumes are still lavish; the sets, still extravagant. Viewers are whisked from one scene to the next at a dizzying pace; the Phantom is inside the Paris Opera House, backstage, in the wings, on the roof, behind Christine's mirror, on a boat, and underground. And we're right there with him thanks to the stage design of Maria Bjornson. Ironically, it's the signature chandelier crash that betrays the production's age: It doesn't crash as much as it saunters...

"The Music of the Night" and "All I Ask of You" have always been crowd-pleasers and these songs illustrate the show's ambivalence towards Christine's suitors. Darkness and sweet intoxication are the Phantom's territory. Daylight and summertime are Raoul's.

Hidden behind his mask, Mr. Roxmouth uses his dulcet voice and his hands to woo both Christine and the audience. A pianist, he possesses nimble fingers that are hypnotic to watch. "My take on it is that the Phantom is so obsessed with music that he's constantly conducting what he hears in his head," he said during a post-show interview. "Life to him is like a symphony and he's the conductor."

The Phantom of the Opera has agEd Gracefully. Its power hasn't been dimmed by Joel Schumacher's film adaptation or by its polarizing sequel, "Love Never Dies" -- both of which provoked mixed reactions. The musical's stagecraft is the true star and it shines as brightly as ever.

Vladimir Bunoan, Even those who have seen the production before in either London or New York's Broadway -- or, in the case of this writer, in Hong Kong in 1996 -- lauded the Manila production, which is really as good as it gets...

The weaknesses of "Phantom" are still there -- the score is repetitive, the fictional opera segments (such as "Point of No Return") are too long, the counterpoints can sound messy to the ears -- but, what's more important, the brilliance that made it into a pop-culture phenomenon hasn't faded one bit...

"Phantom" is really a triumph of the spectacular vision of director Harold Prince and set and costume designer Maria Bjornson...

From the sets to the costumes, Bjornson fills up the stage with lush details -- the gigantic backdrops to the staged operas, including a life-sized elephant with a moving head, the roof-top view of turn-of-the-century Paris, providing a sweeping romantic background for "All I Ask of You," and, of course, the Phantom's underground lair with hundreds of candles and ornate candelabras emerging from under the stage.

The costumes are just as rich in textures and patterns, particularly for the show-stopping "Masquerade" sequence on a grand staircase.

Prince's staging is, in a word, magical -- a gondola smoothly glides across a fogged lake, the Phantom emerging from the back of a gold statue hoisted up the stage, the use of trap doors and body doubles for the Phantom's dramatic entrances and exits, and bursts of flames onstage.

Then there's the astounding sound design, with the Phantom's voice coming from different parts of the theater, surrounding the audience with his omnipresence. There are also subtler tricks, like the precise calculations of the volume such as when the Phantom hears Christine singing from a distance.

While such details may seem bloated today, it still works for "Phantom." It flaunts its reportedly P15-million budget to impress and entertain, providing an unforgettable experience for theatergoers.

Angelica Yang, Philippine Daily Inquirer: The CCP's main theater did not inhibit the stage designers from creating an illusion of depth, as when the Phantom led Christine by the hand to where he lived, down below the theater. They walked across what appeared to be a slanted pathway high above and across the stage. That pathway, or platform, slowly tilted from one end to another as it descended and descended, making it appear as if the characters were walking lower and lower.

Raoul later descended on his own in search of the Phantom and Christine, went to The Edge of that platform and literally jumped! We did not hear a thud (thank goodness), but those in the audience knew he landed in the imaginary waters of the lake beneath the opera house, which led to the underground labyrinth where the Phantom lived.

And when the Phantom emerged with Christine on a boat, gliding on a mist on stage, the scene simply took my breath away! A few scenes later, the Phantom appeared from behind one of the giant pillars suspended above the stage to deliver his angry lines as he looked down straight at the audience, his omnipresence and power over all on grand display.

Yet all this spectacle would not have worked had it not been for the chemistry the Phantom and Christine shared when they sang "The Phantom of the Opera" together. Christine looked entranced as the Phantom beckoned her to "Sing for me!" with hand gestures so expressive I can't forget them. I think these were the most expressive hands I've ever seen on a musical stage! Because the Phantom had half his face covered for the most part, his bodily expressions became key to his role.

Rosalinda Orosa, The Philippine Star: Jonathan Roxmouth, whose voice is soaring, resonant, expressive, is a magnetic presence as The Phantom. The air of gloom and doom he creates pervades, with the cast onstage and the viewers offstage forever wondering: when, where and how will The Phantom appear next? - He is hopelessly in love with the actress-singer Christine, poignantly portrayed by the beautiful, refined, crystalline-voiced Claire Lyon. Christine is engaged to the high-born Raoul, played by Anthony Downing who persuasively arouses audience sympathy. The Phantom's courtship of Christine is in stark contrast with Raoul's own, the former being strangely fierce and abrasive; the latter, gentle and tender. Incidentally, The Phantom does not startle the audience by flying through the air as he did in the London theater; instead, he appears, towards the end, above an elaborate carving, speaking in ominous, threatening tones.

The cast is excellent; the soloists act and sing exuberantly. Authenticity is initially injected by an auction in the opening scene at the Opera House after which the story begins with discussions and preparations for forthcoming operas with the Phantom intruding yet unseen. One session is interrupted by an accident which nearly kills lead singer Carlotta, and this is viewed as The Phantom's doing. Carlotta (Andrea Creighton) backs out, and Meg Giry (Cat Lane), daughter of Mme. Giry (Rebecca Spencer) suggests that Christine take her place. Both mother and daughter, as well as the rest of the ensemble, perform with marked distinctions...

The orchestra admirably led by Stan Tucker has 14 Filipino instrumentalists who are proudly the show's local contingent. Another local touch is given by one opera manager who tells his companions he will be in Boracay should they need him. (The line drew hearty laughter.)

Jullie Yap Daza, Manila Bulletin: In the middle of the masquerade ball in "Phantom of the Opera," the Phantom crashes the party and dares all present: "Let the spectacle astound you!"

The very same five words I would use to urge friends and strangers to watch the musical at CCP. Follow the spectacle and be astounded! By the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and his lyricists, by the sweep and mystery of yet another retelling of the tale of "Beauty and the Beast," and most of all, by how the grandeur of the entire production has been so exquisitely accommodated by CCP's stage, backstage, ceiling and walls. To think that all this time we were fooled into believing that the 40-year-old theater was so lacking in room and equipment that no producer would risk staging the play and letting that chandelier drop at the exact right moment, one inch above the heads of some people in the audience.

Whatever miracle it was that allowed the technical crew to pull it off - new technology or new money - the outcome is a sensually atmospheric night, and the audience goes home singing the melodies and rewinding the magic: "In dreams he came to me"; "Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams"; "Darkness stirs and wakes imagination... Let your senses abandon their defenses."

Photos by Concertus Manila

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