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Andrew Lloyd Webber Composer
Charles Hart Lyricist
Richard Stilgoe Additional Lyrics
Director Grant Messe
Musical Director Michael Nicholas Williams
Choreographer Leigh Evans
Designer Alan Lees

at St James Theatre, Wellington
From 13 Jun 2013 to 6 Jul 2013

Reviewed by Jo Hodgson, 15 Jun 2013

“What a night!  What a crowd! Makes you glad! Makes you proud!” After 25 years on the professional stage worldwide, “He's (finally) here!” at the Wellington St James Theatre.

The NZ musical theatre scene has been buzzing with excitement for months as this NZ premier has grown ever closer and the atmosphere in the theatre tonight is certainly electric. I recall listening over and over to the record while poring over the pictures of the original London production. I am looking forward to seeing a staged production for the first time.

Act 1 opens with old theatre pieces being auctioned off in the derelict Paris Opera House in 1911. “Lot 666, then: a chandelier in pieces. Some of you may recall the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera, a mystery never fully explained …” And so we begin our journey back in time.

And what a journey! The sumptuous overture (played excellently by instrumentalists from Orchestra Wellington) accompany the set transformation into the Opera House as it was in 1881 and the chandelier rises like a spaceship to the ceiling. There are operatic melodies, diva antics, frayed nerves, mysterious voices, fatal ‘accidents', hidden lairs, magical mirrors, young love, longing and despair and the singing, oh what fabulous singing.

The story, based on Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera, tells of the Phantom, a disfigured virtuoso who is infatuated with a beautiful young ingénue Christine Daaé. He mentors her – under the guise of her ‘Angel of music' – and engineers the removal of lead soprano Carlotta Giudicelli and makes sure Christine gets the prima donna role in the opera company before he spirits her away to his lair underneath the Opera House.

The characters have all been expertly cast. 

Chris Crowe's Phantom takes us on such an emotional journey it surprises me how much I genuinely care for this character. His voice moves effortlessly between raw persuasive power and sotto voce poignancy. ‘Music of the night' is spine tingling.

Barbara Graham brings the necessary youthful naivety to Christine with her lyrical and carefree voice totally suiting this role, and we see her character develop and get stronger as she becomes more embroiled in the Phantom's web. For me the popular ‘Wishing you were somehow here again' was physically too busy, I would have loved to have seen a more still, inward reflecting portrayal.

Christine's suitor Raoul is beautifully played and sung by James Adams. He brings such heart and strength to the role both in physicality and vocal precision.

I very much enjoy Rosel Labone's characterisation of the spiteful diva Carlotta and a definite highlight are Craig Beardsworth's Firmin and Luke Bird's André who are a perfectly timed and fantastically sung comic duo. Their diction in particular is faultless.

All the other principal roles – Camilla Besley's sincere Meg, Shirley Kauter's stern Madame Giry and John Goddard's comic Piangi – are ably supported by the large and very talented company of singers and dancers.

The costumes (managed by Terry Guillemot) are lavishly stylised, particularly the colourful fancy dress of ‘Masquerade'. Make up and wigs artist Edyta Koscielecki deserves special mention for the incredible detail of the disfigurement under the Phantoms mask.

The pyros and some of the effects unfortunately don't always hit their mark but the lighting design (Jason Morphett) is evocative, the set from designer Allen Lees is impressive with its towering theatre boxes, gothic organ and the well known mystical underground lake scene including the famous gliding boat.

The pipe organ sound is definitely intense with its through-the-floor bass notes and the orchestral mix is great although not always balanced kindly to the company, notably so in the intricate 8 part numbers ‘Notes' and ‘Prima Donna' which lose a lot of clarity because the sound is quite muddy. 

The producer, Wellington Musical Theatre, the artistic team of director Grant Meese, Musical Director Michael Nicholas Williams, and Choreographer Leigh Evans with all the cast and crew, the majority of whom volunteer their time and skills, have produced another spectacular night at the theatre.
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See also reviews by:
 Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] (The Dominion Post);