Sat 02/06/2012 - Bristol Hippodrome

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Sat 02/06/2012 - Bristol Hippodrome

Post  Aled_Boyo on Tue Jun 05, 2012 11:12 pm

John Owen-Jones as The Phantom
Katie Hall as Christine
Simon Bailey as Raoul

With Angela M Caesar, Andy Hockley, Simon Green, Elizabeth Marsh, Vincent Pirillo and Hannah Cadec.

Okay. This show is different. I mean, completely frickin' different! And while it wasn't the absolute horrorshow I'd been expecting after reading the initial reactions, it was without doubt the single most awkward experience I've had watching the show withinin the last decade or so.

I'm not going to go into too much detail here, because it might be best to go watch it with a somewhat open mind. Be warned, however, that this is NOT the London production on a budget; it's a different beast altogether and IMO intended for a completely different audience, too. If you're an old-school, die-hard who thinks the original production is perfection, as many do, then I'd avoid it at all costs. Seriously. There are things going on in this version that have never been attempted before. Some of them work. Others really, really don't.

I'd consider myself to be mid-to-high on the Phan spectrum, in that I've seen the London production 16 times, the previous UK touring version a handful of times, the Vegas production, went to the RAH concert and enjoyed it immensely... and saw LND. Twice. And wasn't entirely offended by it. So I guess it's fair to say I'm open to change, which is an important factor when it comes to this latest incarnation.

The set is designed to show you the inner workings of the opera house, to create this upstairs/downstairs, behind the scenes sort of look. It works well in some parts, with the dressing room being a good example; as the Phantom leads Christine through the mirror and Raoul enters to investigate, the stage begins to revolve. The title song's opening chords strike just as the Phantom and Christine re-appear at the top of the drum and Raoul leaves, which I thought was a nice bit of interweaving stage work.

Which leads to the first big 'special effect' of the show, the journey to the lair! I thought it was... interesting. It takes a while to get going, but once they go down the stairs and the floating candles appear (I've never seen the Harry Potter films, so I wasn't fussed by the comparison) it starts to look kinda cool. It reminded me a bit of the Claude Rains version. I just wish the boat had been used a bit more and the colours were slightly toned down; the lake looked purple on Saturday night and the flame on the gondola is HUGE! No need for the lamp!

When the drum re-opens to reveal the lair, at first I was like ''Ooohhh, aaahhh'', but then the more you look at it, the less intruiging it becomes. It looks more like a bedroom than a lair / kingdom of music. MOTN is pretty flat as a result, because the scenery doesn't change one bit throughout. STYDI is, well, you've heard it already haven't you? Mask comes off, cloth goes on, Christine picks mask up, Phantom goes beserk. Yeah. Pretty lame. Also, the Phantom doesn't do the crawl anymore. He sings it standing up from way over the other side of the stage, only at the last couple of lines going over to kneel by her side.

The humanization of the Phantom is where the show will really offend some. We see far too much. Take for instance the hanging of Buquet; we see exactly how the Phantom goes about it, and while technically as a special effect it looks great, it reveals the Phantom to be just another man. Same goes for his first appearance, which isn't the Mirror, but in his stagehand guise after TOM; as ''Brava'' is heard, we see him lingering around Christine, walking across the stage with his face obscured by a prop,. The idea in the original was that Christine would hear this voice calling her softly from the shadows. Now it's just a dude hanging around backstage!

The deformity has been toned down quite drastically. From the stalls, he looks like a bald man with a cauliflower ear and some big pimples - hardly a reason to draw back in fear! The mask too is darker and more fitted to JOJ's face. It's like a cross between the LND one and the 2004 movie version. From certain angles, it doesn't look like he's even wearing one, especially when the fringe comes down over the same side of his face. And NO FEDORA!! Bar one scene, Notes I, which is a real let-down. I know it sounds silly, but the hat makes him more of a threat / villain, which we love, right!!?? He's just not sinister enough, which was a major problem lots of people had with that other show... it's the same thing here. He's just a guy, a few tricks up his sleeve. No biggie. This affects the dynamic of Wandering Child so, so much! I hated it. The Phantom casually walking around the graveyard, Raoul pinning him up against the wall, it's terrible. The direction is awkward as hell; ''That's right, keep walking this way!'' says the Phantom, when they're practically nose-to-nose!

Anyway, I don't want to slag it off too much beacuse in all fairness, the cast were tremendous and there WERE a few things I liked. Here's a quick rundown of the positive:

- Christine smacking Raoul square in the face in Notes II after she screams ''THIS IS MAD!!'' His reaction is not one of anger, but of pure affection as he cradles her, kissing her gently on the head even though she's just lost her temper and lamped him. I thought that showed how much he cares for her and a genuine concern for her safety. Bailey rocked it.

- The second (well, now first!) unmasking and the chaos that follows. As the Phantom scrambles around in a blind panic, the policeman takes aim and is about to shoot. At this very moment, the Phantom grabs Christine. Raoul, concerned for his wife-to-be and having suddenly remembered his order to shoot to kill, lunges at the gunman, causing him to shoot a wayward bullet that hits the backdrop, thus revealing Piangi's hanging body. As everyone recoils in horror, the Phantom uses the distraction to make a swift exit. To me, this worked really well, and was the only moment - dare I say it - that was better than the original.

-The Mirror / Title song. As per my description above, I think it's a pretty cool take on the scene. Not an improvement. Just a nice bit of theatre.

- The Phantom releases Raoul from the lasso by shooting a fireball from his hand.

- The disappearance, while a little less subtle than the throne, looks pretty neat. I just really wish they'd devised a way so that people don't simply just wander in to the Phantom's bedroom at the end. It kind of makes you think - wouldn't they have found him out by now!?


I know I've only touched on a few points in this review, but if anyone's got any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. I've not mentioned the supporting cast as they were all pretty standard, really. If I had to single anyone out it would have to be Elizabeth Marsh as Giry. She was very strong, with a clear diction and solid vocals.

All 3 leads were superb and got a standing ovation.

Thank you and goodnight Very Happy






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Re: Sat 02/06/2012 - Bristol Hippodrome

Post  LadyCDaae on Wed Jun 06, 2012 3:48 am

Christine smacking Raoul square in the face in Notes II after she screams ''THIS IS MAD!!'' His reaction is not one of anger, but of pure affection as he cradles her, kissing her gently on the head even though she's just lost her temper and lamped him. I thought that showed how much he cares for her and a genuine concern for her safety. Bailey rocked it.

Oh, I like that! "Christine, Christine, don't think that I don't care" always runs the risk of coming off as condescending, but playing it that way leaves no doubt that Raoul really does appreciate how (justifiably) frightened she is by the whole thing.

~LCD

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Re: Sat 02/06/2012 - Bristol Hippodrome

Post  operafantomet on Wed Jun 06, 2012 5:47 am

Very, very interesting review, pointing out good and bad things, but most of all what this version is trying to be.

The second (well, now first!) unmasking and the chaos that follows. As the Phantom scrambles around in a blind panic, the policeman takes aim and is about to shoot. At this very moment, the Phantom grabs Christine. Raoul, concerned for his wife-to-be and having suddenly remembered his order to shoot to kill, lunges at the gunman, causing him to shoot a wayward bullet that hits the backdrop, thus revealing Piangi's hanging body. As everyone recoils in horror, the Phantom uses the distraction to make a swift exit. To me, this worked really well, and was the only moment - dare I say it - that was better than the original.
This sounds very good indeed.

The humanization of the Phantom is where the show will really offend some. We see far too much. Take for instance the hanging of Buquet; we see exactly how the Phantom goes about it, and while technically as a special effect it looks great, it reveals the Phantom to be just another man. Same goes for his first appearance, which isn't the Mirror, but in his stagehand guise after TOM; as ''Brava'' is heard, we see him lingering around Christine, walking across the stage with his face obscured by a prop,. The idea in the original was that Christine would hear this voice calling her softly from the shadows. Now it's just a dude hanging around backstage!
Not sure making the role of the Phantom more "realistic" and "human" is the way to go. Because then you have to cope with a lot of other issues. It alters the fundament of the musical, and - dare I say it - the logic.

I've read some 30 reviews of the new UK tour. In many of them the reviewers complain that the "drum" set feels static and limited after some time. I see you mention it in context of the lair, but how did you think it worked out in general?

_________________
JOSEFINE TO THE PHANTOM:
You come off as... somewhat... rough...

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Re: Sat 02/06/2012 - Bristol Hippodrome

Post  SenorSwanky on Wed Jun 06, 2012 6:08 am

I think some of the positives, like PONR unmasking, do sound like good changes. But this is the first I'd heard of the Phantom's appearance in the flesh while singing "brava" after TOM. That's one of those things that sounds creative when you're hashing the production out but that has to be scrapped to keep the mystique of the character.

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Re: Sat 02/06/2012 - Bristol Hippodrome

Post  Aled_Boyo on Wed Jun 06, 2012 2:08 pm

operafantomet,
I agree, the 'realistic' angle is a downer. For the hardcore fans anyway. I imagine if this was my fist time, I'd probably be thrilled. But yes, it does question the whole fabric of the Phantom's role in the show. I guess that's why he's got a bed and a desk in his lair, rather than candelabras and a smashed up mirror. It's creepy-stagehand of the opera, not the PHANTOM, as the posters so proudly claim. But again, this is the opinion of someone who has seen the original numerous times and loved it.. As a revised homage to 25 years of theatrical brilliance, it's quite dreadful, borderline insulting. Just way too different to even compare! But as an introduction to the story and the score to a fresh, inexperienced mind it's a pretty decent show and a cracking night out. It all depends what you want from it...or what you're willing yourself to want from it.
It's a bit like the Star Wars prequel trilogy, which were essentially made to draw in a new audience - while overall it's quite a shallow, confusing experience it still manages to entertain with a few moments of brilliance, without really affecting the potency of the original. Know what I mean?

As for the drum, in general it works. The trouble is, once it opens up to reveal a particular scene - like Masquerade for example - it just stays the same, and you kind of expect it to do more but it never does. But all the changes are very fluid and I didn't find it distracting at all. But I do agree about the managers' office. Far too small, very awkward staging and the wallpaper (bright red with vectors) is way too much. But I imagine they had to sacrifice some scenes so they can prep it for the next change; the Il Muto set, which follows, looks great for instance. Another cool bit was at the end of Act I; as the Phantom is proclaiming his vengence, the statue retracts into the dark and the drum closes on him as the 'actors' come on to take their bows. The boxes roll into view and Christine stands there in her moment of glory. The Phantom re-appears in box 5 and then boom! it's fireworks!! This is when it ALL works.

But then you have scenes like Down Once More, which is basically the Phantom and Christine walking downstage right past the closed drum with a bit of dry ice at their feet. Presumably at this point real stagehands are prepping the lair, lighting the candles etc. It's understandable, but a shame that a lot of the scenes are sacrificed in such a way. Wandering child is another victim; two tombstones and a dusky backdrop. Then it's onto PONR, which looks fab! See the pattern?

LCD,
I really liked this moment. As you say, it shows how sincere Raoul can be. A lesser man would've not cared. I can't compliment SB enough on how he handled the scene. It's so subtle yet brilliant. In fact he's pretty solid throughout the whole show and deserved his ovation.

SenorSwanky,
It's an odd one, as it could be one of those blink-and-you'll-miss-it moments, were it not for the fact that the only two people on stage at the time are Christine and this mysterious character lurking behind her. But I'm fairly certain it's meant to be him. Why else would he be hiding his face? He bolts as soon as Meg comes in. It also makes sense as he's wearing the same get-up later on in the hanging of Joey-B.
They did a similar thing in LND after the changes. In the scene where Christine, Raoul and their son arrive in New York, one of the reporters dressed all in black had his hat pulled over his face the entire time, and sort of lurked around Christine for a little while before slipping away once Raoul went over to her. Perhaps they really are trying to bridge the gap???

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Re: Sat 02/06/2012 - Bristol Hippodrome

Post  NightRachel on Wed Jun 06, 2012 4:42 pm

Thanks, Aled, for sharing your review with us! I enjoyed reading it.
Every new review I read of this restaged POTO gives me more insight into the production and all the changes that were made to the sets, costumes, etc. Still, though, I don't think I'd run to see it anytime soon. Neutral

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Re: Sat 02/06/2012 - Bristol Hippodrome

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