THE audible gasp from an entire audience as a shimmering, sparkling and stunning chandelier illuminated the packed Palace Theatre auditorium, set the tone for a night of theatre at its best as Phantom Of The Opera returned to Manchester on its 25th anniversary tour.
From there on in, I and the rest of the ‘patrons’ were transfixed, spellbound as we were transported to the Paris Opera, ruled over by a mysterious Opera Ghost.
Bringing the behind the scenes moments to the fore and creating a more detailed backstage setting is one of many highlights in this new production. Where in previous outings these scenes have seemed sparce against the opulence of the opera house, this time they were the focus drawing you into the story to develop a hightened sensation of darkened corners, corridors and catacombs.
The action was seamless with a new flowing, rotating set design, and while the famous gondelier scene is still there - for me it was almost overshadowed by what had gone before: An amazing effect which I will not spoil. The work of director Laurence Connor and set designer Paul Brown fused to create magic throughout.
John Owen-Jones, last seen at the Palace in the Les Mis 25th anniversary tour, was ‘phan-omenal’ setting my nerves tingling with every note, right across the Phantom’s range of emotions. A legendary performance which must firmly place him in the theatre history books.
On more than one occasion, I found myself holding my breathe so as not to disturb my listening. From tenderness to jealous, bitter rage, Jones had me as easily seduced as the ingenue Christine, played with maturity beyond her years by Katie Hall.
The blend between her vocal registers was flawless and her conflict between love and hate for the Phantom was deeply entrancing, making it a powerful performance on all levels. An often forgotten number, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again was incredible, and the heat of The Point Of No Return between the two of them was sizzling.
Simon Bailey makes a handsome Raoul, dashing and charming while developing a passionate, angry side to the Vicomte de Chagny.
Andy Hockley and Simon Green as the opera’s new owners Firmin and Andre brought out every ounce of comedy, beautifully played against Elizabeth Marsh’s cold and upright ballet mistress Madame Giry. Angela M Caesar and Vincent Pirillo relished every moment as the operatic divas Carlotta and Piangi, also lightening the darker moments.
In the new look production, tribute is paid to the late Maria Bjornson as her original costume designs remain in place; stunning in the main - although I felt Masquerade was lacking the wild designs I’d seen before. Clever tricks of light and sound (Paule Constable and Mick Potter) added to the illusions as the Phantom controlled his opera.
Heading towards 30 years old, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score is as emotional and stiring as ever and, if proof was needed, the crowd gathered over the orchestra pit as Anthony Gabriele brought the night to an end was certainly it.
N The Phantom Of The Opera, Palace Theatre, Manchester, until May 19. Tickets from 0844 8472277.