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New London Production

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Post  Raphael Thu Apr 29, 2021 12:09 am

There's been a lot of news about the reopening of the London production and it NOT being "The Brilliant Original" despite what RUG and Cameron Mackintosh have said in the press. With what was the largest pit orchestra in the West End cut to 14 musicians and the original show and its cast sacked and replaced by Cameron Mackintosh's new UK Tour, we may very well have seen the last of Hal Prince's production on the West End. Since this is essentially a pared-down version, I thought it might be wise to split it off from the London Production thread.

If any long-time London phans happen attend this new Phantom production, I'd be curious to hear your opinions.

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Post  Raphael Thu Apr 29, 2021 12:10 am

Here's an article of Cameron Mackintosh attempting to justify the changes made to the London Production:

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Post  Raphael Thu Apr 29, 2021 12:15 am

The only bright side in all this has been the announcement of Lucy St. Louis as the new London Christine - and the first black actress to play the role in the West End:

Although the cynic in me thinks that with the rest of the cast I believe being identical to the recent UK Tour, that would mean they bumped the previous principal Christine to alternate to make this cast change to divert attention away from any blowback from Mackintosh's horrendous quotes in the What's On Stage article.

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Post  Raphael Fri Apr 30, 2021 12:55 pm

New London Christine Lucy St. Louis and her new costumes:

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Post  MarySkater Mon May 03, 2021 9:37 am

When I read through the cast list, I was surprised to see Manon Taris as an ensemble player. She can do more than that! She was alternate Christine in the cancelled Paris production. In the famous "party" on the steps of the Opera House with the Paris cast, she took over singing the high notes at the end of the title song, when Sierra bottled out.

I'll know more when the programme for the new production is published, but I hope Manon is at least credited as an understudy for one of the principals, Carlotta if not Christine.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrwQlEG3OtA
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Post  Raphael Mon May 03, 2021 11:31 pm

I'm honestly not entirely surprised. Several of the US productions have had incredibly talented and versatile ensemble members who have proven they are on par with the principals. I know a few never graduate to the lead roles because they are considered by the creative team to be too valuable in covering lots of tracks.

That being said, would love to see Manon as the principal Christine at some point!
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Post  GlassPrism Mon May 03, 2021 11:36 pm

MarySkater wrote:When I read through the cast list, I was surprised to see Manon Taris as an ensemble player. She can do more than that! She was alternate Christine in the cancelled Paris production. In the famous "party" on the steps of the Opera House with the Paris cast, she took over singing the high notes at the end of the title song, when Sierra bottled out.

I'll know more when the programme for the new production is published, but I hope Manon is at least credited as an understudy for one of the principals, Carlotta if not Christine.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrwQlEG3OtA

I believe Manon Taris was set to be the understudy Christine in Paris, not alternate (that was Anne-Marine Suire). That said, Manon Taris was in the London production before it shut down due to COVID-19, and she was cast as the Carlotta understudy and even went on a few times, so I would not be surprised if she's the understudy for that role again!

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Post  auctioneer Thu May 27, 2021 1:35 pm

Yes, it is all very unfortunate, but absolutely no surprise. One of my favorite parts of this wonderful production has been the orchestra, and I have frequently in the past posted about my marvel at the original musicians who played in the pit from 1986 right up until March 2020. There are also folks on the crew who have done the same, and we all know of long-serving cast members Philip Griffiths and Ellen Jackson.
None of this can be held against the new folks who will move into orchestra, cast, and crew roles. Musicals are a business, after all.
I can understand needing to modernize, but the reduction of the orchestra is by far the biggest shame.
Sadly, the mainstream will not care. I remember the same outcry when Les Miz reduced their orchestra twice - firstly when they moved to the Queen's from the Palace, and then again when they brought in the new production. It was from a small but vocal group, but it all died off within a few weeks. Sadly it will here, too.
My kudos and thanks to all the long-serving musicians, cast, and crew who now find themselves out of work.

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New London Production Empty Opening night of the new London production, July 2021

Post  MarySkater Tue Feb 01, 2022 6:56 pm

Sorry for the delay, I should have posted this sooner.  I was at the opening night in London, and this report was written soon afterwards. It was a packed house, the audience was hugely enthusiastic, and it was a very special occasion.

**********

Phantom of the Opera
Her Majesty's Theatre, 27th July 2021

This has been called a "new production."  Most of the changes are fairly small.  I guess the idea is to keep it enough like the POTO we know to keep audiences happy, but let CamMac stop paying royalties to the (estates of the) original creative team of Prince, Bjornson, Lynne.

The Phantom – Killian Donnelly
Christine – Lucy St. Louis
Raoul – Rhys Whitfield

I liked Killian a lot as Valjean in the Les Mis tour, but I'm not sure he has the right voice for Phantom. (Others disagree.)  He's competent, just doesn't sound like my idea of an Angel of Music.  But his acting was better in Act 2.
Lucy was a great Christine, voice and acting, I really enjoyed her performance.
Rhys was a pleasant surprise. I'd only seen him in one concert spot that he did with Lucy. I wasn't impressed by that, and was distracted by his awkward use of a hand mike. But tonight his singing was much better than I expected. I don't yet feel I know "who he is" as Raoul, but at least he didn't irritate me.

I occasionally noticed a difference in the music with the reduced orchestra.  In the Grand Circle (third level up) a couple of times during loud bits I thought the music was slightly distorted. It could be they haven't got the levels quite sorted yet, or maybe it's my ageing hearing.

In the centre of the proscenium where the Angel used to be is a female figure that I've mentally dubbed "the bronze lady," which has now been identified as a duplicate of a sculpture decorating the Grand Foyer in the Palais Garnier. I don't know why she's cracked!

The proscenium is still gilded figures, but there are fewer than they used to be, and they extend sideways over the theatre's boxes, which have been restored to original colours. I did wonder if the real boxes would be used in the show, but they weren't. I think two had tech stuff, the others empty. I wonder if they'll start selling them for the show?

I was happy to see that the chandelier starts on the stage, but puzzled by the round shape. The old one was oval, and in recent weeks when the scenery was going in, we saw the old one refurbished (or a new replica) sitting outside the building waiting to go in. Is it a backup?  They complain about not having much storage space in the theatre, so why would they have two?  At any rate, a round one is closer to the one in the Palais Garnier.

There was a burst of applause as Cameron Mackintosh appeared onstage. Now, I don't think he is universally popular with fans! So I think the applause was really because things were starting to happen rather than specifically for him.  He did a brief "welcome to the new show" speech, as well as the "no recording, turn off your mobile phones" bit.  ALW was also in the audience, but not drawing attention to himself.

Act 1

I thought the auctioneer sounded a bit stilted, but maybe he'll get more fluent as time goes on, or maybe he just wants to sound different from Philip Griffiths. Some of the lines about the chandelier were changed; it's not "in pieces" because this new one doesn't collapse. It's "until recently believed destroyed." There are various places through the show where I thought there were minor changes in the dialogue, e.g. some of the managers' chat during the Hannibal rehearsal.  

There was cheering and clapping as the chandelier lit up, carrying on all through its rise. As before, it rose off the stage, hovered, and then swooped out over the orchestra.

Hannibal rehearsal: Saori Oda as Carlotta is small and slim. We had this before with Lara Martins, but Lara played opposite Kelly Mathieson who towered over her. Lucy is small, and I'm not sure I like Christine and Carlotta being so similar. (But it's believable that Carlotta's costumes wouldn't need much alteration to fit Christine!). I had the impression that the slave master's dance wasn't as extravagant as it has been in the past – something to pay attention to on a next viewing. He still flirts with Carlotta, and at one point he was talking to the wardrobe mistress, hitching up the side of his skirt to apparently discuss some detail of his underwear.

Meg is red-haired. Maybe they thought having her blonde would be too harsh a contrast to Lucy's Christine. Lucy is wearing a wig, but it's black and tightly-curled (is it PC to call afro hair "frizzy"?) like Lucy's own hair, which is good. She wouldn't look right with the usual loose brown waves.

Giry does more stick-thumping than she used to, too much in my opinion.

Although they are crediting a new choreographer, I think the ballet's routine in the background to 'Angel of Music' was the same, something I always like. When the mirror opened, a lot of fog came up from the floor of Christine's dressing room. I don't remember that from before. Maybe it's new, or maybe because I was looking down on it it was more noticeable. After Phantom and Christine go through the mirror, they used to cross the front of the stage and go down the trap on the left. That didn't happen; instead the ballet girls crossed the front of the stage. We next saw P&C on the travellator. As they descended, there were images of criss-crossing staircases above and behind them, a nice labyrinth effect.

The lake had many floor-level candles, but could have used a bit more fog.  We didn't get the tall candelabras. We heard later that that was a technical glitch. The candelabras were there for final lair, and the next night they came up in first lair as well. As the boat came out, I noticed it stopped with a slight bump and paused before moving on. I don't think that was intentional!

MOTN: In "floating, falling," Christine stroked the Phantom's mask. It's in the libretto that she should, but most Phantoms snatch her hand away when she tries.  I liked the way Lucy did it. I did not like that Killian didn't do the catch/ carry at Mirror Bride. Christine falls to the floor.  Come on, K! You could carry Marius around in Les Mis! Surely you can handle a slip of a girl like Lucy! 😊

When Christine was creeping up to snatch the mask, I thought she looked scared, certainly different from the playful way Sierra did it at RAH. I felt that this Christine was afraid of what she might find, but had to look anyway.

Il Muto: Sadly, we no longer have the Phantom visible above the proscenium, nor tugging at the chandelier. When we hear his voice, a spotlight hits the "bronze lady" sculpture. When Andre says, "Meanwhile, we will be giving you the…" there is a long pause as though he can't think what to do, until Giry thumps her stick. (I know I said she was doing too many of those, but this time it works for me.) With that prompt, Andre says "ballet."  There's more business of him getting in the way of the dancers coming on. Audience laughed a lot.

Rooftop. The backdrop has changed, giving more of the roof structures and less of the Paris skyline. On the whole I like this. The old rooftop backdrop had a hint of the Eiffel Tower, which shouldn't have been there as it wasn't built until 1889. The dominant feature now is the reproduction of one of the winged horses on the roof of the real Garnier. Possibly smaller than the original, but much larger than a real horse. In case the audience don't get the reference, the programme includes a picture of Sarah Brightman with one of the Garnier horses from a long-ago photoshoot.  Sketched in on the backdrop is an indication of the other horse on the opposite corner.

For the AIAOY reprise, the horse moves forward on the stage, and then we see that the Phantom has been hidden behind its wings. That horse really is enormous – I've no idea where they can find space for it backstage.

Killian sang the reprise well; the only slight drawback was that when we heard C&R's voices from off-stage, he didn't cover his ears as most Phantoms do. That's one of the iconic gestures – I hope it gets restored.

Chandelier crash: It plummets nicely, but I had the impression it slowed just before reaching the stage. The crash comes as the Il Muto cast are taking their bows, with the red curtains mostly closed behind them. At different times in the past, I've seen it done with several people on stage, or sometimes Christine alone, and sometimes Raoul dashes in and sweeps her out of the path of the chandelier. Meanwhile two stagehands (not very visible, but anyway in period costume) duck out from behind the red curtains to catch and steady the chandelier.  This time, sadly, it came down on an empty stage with no one to catch it. I wonder if this is some new safety regulation. It takes away from the drama of the moment.  The audience liked it, but those of us who know the show knew that it was less good than it used to be.

Act 2

Masquerade looks pretty much as it always did. When the managers come on, we first saw Firmin had a waistcoat marked as a rib-cage. Then Andre topped him with his full skeleton. I suppose it was intended as a joke to create rivalry between the managers, but I don't really like it. I preferred Andre's costume to come as a complete surprise, with no previous hints.

When Christine says "secret engagement," she holds up the ring on its chain. The last few times I've seen the show, that hasn't been done. It's an improvement to put it back in, because without that, how is the audience to know why the Phantom steals the chain?

Because I was high up, I could see the two white dots on the stage marking where the Phantom has to stand if he's going down through the trap. I saw Killian look down to check his position, and he carefully didn't move an inch while going through the "Your chains…" bit with Christine. Previously when I've sat centrally in stalls or Royal Circle, I get too dazzled by the flash to see which way off he goes, but from the higher level I could see him go down the trap.

After "Twisted Every Way," previously Christine used to shout "I can't!" as she ran off. I never liked that, because the next time we see her she's taking part in the rehearsal. The "I can't" has been taken out now, which is better.

When Christine was on her way to the graveyard, the instrumental bit before the bells start was one of the places where I thought the sound was thinner than it used to be when we had the full orchestra.

Lucy's performance of "Wishing" was excellent. Raoul had a couple of extra lines in the trio. Killian needs to be a bit more careful where he throws the fireballs. One of them landed between Christine and Raoul – I was concerned it might have burned her dress.

Preparing for DJT, the policeman in the pit's gun failed to fire. Opening night glitch – they carried on with the script as though it had.

PONR. Some serious changes to the staging here, and I liked it very much. Lacking a video, I'm going to compare what I remember of the performance with what happened at the RAH.   We still had the business with the apple and the wine goblet.

RAH version: Christine sits on the bench, and the Phantom comes up behind, then sits beside her and takes her hand. When he sings "What warm unspoken secrets shall we learn Beyond the point of no return," he moves the linked hands up near her breast. Christine jumps up and moves away. I think the intention is that she still thinks it's Piangi, but he's getting too personal. (Because there's a bit later on when she definitely discovers he's the Phantom.)

HMT version: They didn't do the touch-the-breast bit. Instead, Christine stared very pointedly at the linked hands, then ran away. I saw it as that she recognised his hands. However, at some point, and I can't remember exactly when, she had touched his hood and could have felt the mask under it. But to me it looked like the hands were the give-away. Anyway she ran away, turned to stare at him and started "You have brought me…"  My impression was, she definitely knew it was the Phantom, and she was challenging him, like 'you want to perform with me? Okay, let's see you do it.'

From "I've decided," Christine went back to the bench where the Phantom was sitting.  Twice, she did a dance high-kick with her boot-toe stopping inches from the Phantom's head. I can't remember exactly where this fitted into the song, and I wasn't sure if I liked it, but it did express the idea that Christine was taking charge of the situation.

At RAH, it was at "consume us" that Christine definitely knew it was the Phantom, tried to run away, but he held her wrists. I just can't remember how that was played at HMT – I'll either have to wait till I see it again, or hope someone posts a bootleg video. But HMT Christine was still in charge when she pulled down his hood to reveal him.

At this point the Phantom appeared to be looking for an escape.  He moved left, but an armed policeman was there, Raoul stopping him from shooting because Christine was in the line of fire. Then he went to the back of the stage, to the curtained room where he left Piangi.  In the previous staging at HMT, he stopped in front of the curtain and appeared reluctant to go nearer, then turned away.  This time Giry appeared and stood by the curtain, so it was like she was turning him away from it. This was one change I didn't like.  I prefer the Phantom to make that decision for himself, as an indication that maybe he realises he was wrong to commit that murder.

In the previous production, while this was happening, Christine tried to run off to the right, but the managers  stopped her from getting away. I never liked that, I could see no reason for it. This time she still moved right, and the managers were there, and armed. But Christine didn't try to escape, she positioned herself in front of them, protecting the Phantom from them. That was a "Wow!" moment.

The rest of that scene played as normal, with the Phantom's AIAOY, the ring and the unmasking.

When the curtain opened to reveal Piangi's body, he was strung up by the neck (which they did at RAH).  In previous HMT versions we see him sprawled on the bed with the rope round his neck. I prefer the old version. A suspended dummy looks like a dummy, and we've already had one in the first act.  But this time we did get to hear Carlotta's "What 'as 'appened? Ubaldo!" which is good – that's been left out for a long time.

When Raoul and Giry were on the bridge, because I was sitting high up I could see the outline of Raoul's trap for the jump in the lake, and all praise to Rhys, he made the jump from an impressive height.  (But then, with ALW and CamMac in the audience, he had an incentive!) I think there could have been more fog on the lake, though. The trap actually has a lit-up edge, so Raoul would still be able to see it.

In Final Lair, the Phantom had a couple of line changes: When Raoul appeared at the portcullis, instead of P saying "I had rather hoped that you would come," it's now "I had hardly dreamt we'd be so blessed."  And after Raoul's "Let me see her," instead of "Be my guest, sir," it's now "Why of course, sir."

The rest of the scene played very well, despite another glitch. When the Phantom picked up the candle to release Raoul, it was initially lit, but went out.  As Christine and Raoul ran off, she glanced back at the Phantom with concern in her face, but not grief.  When C&R went off in the boat, the Phantom murmured "I love you" more than once.

The audience was wildly enthusiastic at the curtain call. Lucy looked overcome by her reception. After taking his own bow, Killian kissed her on the cheek in congratulation.  (I read somewhere that he whispered something in her ear, but it looked like a kiss to me. Could have been both.)  Many people stayed to watch/ listen to the orchestra doing the play-out, and gave them a round of applause when it finished.
**********

UPDATE
Since writing the above, I've seen the show twice more, both times with the alternate Christine, Holly-Anne Hull.  Holly is fine, but I really want to see Lucy again.  I'm getting used to Killian's voice, but now I find I just don't get the emotional depth from him. He's an adequate Phantom, and I've seen worse, but I've also seen a lot better.  The first understudy, James Gant, has played a number of shows, and is highly praised. I'm hoping to see him in March. Around late December, when many shows in London missed performances because cast members were isolating with Covid, Phantom never cancelled a show, but the understudies had a lot of work.

The new chandelier does fold down; it's in its collapsed state for the auction, and opens up as it moves. It's on wheels (4 very small ones, which can just be seen in some photos) and the auction attendants roll it forward before it lifts off the stage. I think they may have speeded up the fall a bit, and last time I saw it, Christine was on stage as it fell, but to one side, not in the direct line of fire as they used to do with the oval chandelier.
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New London Production Empty Re: New London Production

Post  Raphael Wed Feb 02, 2022 1:28 am

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the new London production, MarySkater!
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Post  Jennie Thu Feb 24, 2022 10:58 am

Thank you for the review, Mary. Interesting to have input from another fan about the changes. Have been making tentative plans to nip over to London mid-March for a long weekend, and see the show, but recent events leave me stunned and indecisive.

So the Phantom no longer descends from the proscenium aboard the Angel after AIAOY? The description of the horse statue reminds me of the Japanese set in Nagoya, there was a whacking great horse that the Phantom hid behind during the rooftop scene.

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Post  MarySkater Sat Feb 26, 2022 5:04 pm

I read somewhere that the winged horse as an alternative to the descending angel was created by Maria Bjornson, as an option for use in theatres where the angel couldn't be used. During the theatre's refurbishment, there were reports that the structure of the proscenium arch was being damaged by the angel weight and mechanism, so it had to go. The theatre is "listed" (legally protected) so any alterations need permission, and a thorough survey of the structure was done as part of the application for modifications. Some people have expressed a wish that the sculpture should have been stripped down to make it lighter, and just fixed in the centre of the proscenium as part of the decor. I can understand that, but on the other hand, the new understated centrepiece does not "compete" with the horse, which is pretty stunning. The horse looks solid, but I can't help thinking that parts of it must be collapsible, or I don't see how they could store it backstage.

I hope you get to see it sometime, Jennie, but in the Covid era I can understand anyone being cautious about international travel, not so much for fear of the virus as for fear of arriving somewhere to find you're forced into quarantine. The situation in England is now more relaxed, but the past shows us that rules can be changed with very little notice.
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