Twenty-five years, 50 awards, 149 cities, 100 million viewers. With numbers like these, you'd be a fool to miss Phantom of the Opera, showing at the Arstcape in Cape Town until 14 January and at Montecasino in Johannesburg from 31 January.
I won't waste time with the plot; you either know it already or are lucky enough to discover it for the first time. Simply put, Phantom of the Opera is about love: the things we love, the people we love, and fighting for a chance to love and be loved. It's the kind of universal struggle we can all relate to, which is probably why this masterpiece is so timeless.
Equally timeless is Andrew Lloyd Webber's music. I can still remember spending hours watching the 2004 movie adaptation (directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Gerard Butler), rewinding every song so I wouldn't miss a word. And yet Music Of The Night and All I Ask Of You still gave me chills as though I was hearing them for the first time!
Director Harold Prince has really brought out the best in this local cast. I was pleasantly surprised to see Angela Kilian in the role of Madame Giry. Twelve years after I was lucky enough to share the stage with her in a high school production of Evita, my respect for her has only grown. More than anyone else, I felt her diction was consistently perfect.
And then there was the Phantom, played by Jonathan Roxmouth in the performance I saw. It was so amazing to watch him capture the anger and rage without letting these louder emotions drown out the pain and fear hissing beneath. "I was a bit of a recluse growing up, so the notion of solitude resounded with me on some level," Roxmouth said in an interview with The Writing Studio. "There are three main pillars to this character: rejection, control and music. All three touch a nerve in me due to various reasons, so becoming the Phantom was a therapeutic process of self-discovery."
Many schizophrenic moments
But wait, there's more. In addition to playing the Phantom on Sundays, Roxmouth plays Raoul (the "good guy") during the week! "I had no idea how much work it was but, thankfully, I had a very patient team to deal with my many schizophrenic moments in scenes where I didn't know whether to stand in Raoul's spot or sing the Phantom's lines," he explained.
Playing Raoul means he gets to star opposite Andre Schwartz, who gave an award-winning performance as the Phantom in 2004 and was excited to reprise this classic role. Ironically, watching the production seven years ago is what ultimately inspired Roxmouth to skip out on studying criminal law and pursue a career on the stage instead. "To come full circle and go into the theatre and put that mask on is still an experience that seems new," he said. "I often stand in the wings and watch the show thinking, 'This is completely insane. It happened.'"
Modelled on disfigured soldiers
Production designer Maria Björnson explains that she fashioned the Phantom's face after half-masks worn by disfigured soldiers in World War I. (Think Richard in Boardwalk Empire.) The mask is so detailed that it takes about 90 minutes to put on and another 30 minutes to take off!
This doesn't bother Roxmouth, who explained that the time in the chair is a great way to settle down before a performance. "The layering process is quite therapeutic, so I use it as one type of warm-up in a sense," he said. He also finds power in wearing the mask. "I find that I am less inhibited in trying different things when I wear it. It is such a privilege to don that iconic mask."
Magic set design
The set design can be described in just one word: magic. Granted, there were a few glitches in some earlier performances. In one instance, the freshly painted stage hadn't dried, forcing the cast to perform the entire show sitting down. In another, the show started an hour late because the famous chandelier wouldn't lift. But the performance that I saw was the kind of flawless experience that instils a deep sense of respect for what goes on quickly and quietly behind the scenes
Mirrors, lighting, and sound create some scary illusions where the Phantom appears and disappears throughout the theatre, while the surprisingly well-behaved smoke transforms into an eerie lake. It's so easy to forget that you're actually watching people on a stage. You might as well be in another world.
Deserves the highest praise
Forgive me if I'm being too positive (part of which might be because I haven't been to the theatre in a while) but this production deserves the highest praise. Yes, there were a few times (especially in Notes/Prima Donna) where it was hard to make out the words. And, yes the cheesy TV ad looks older than the musical itself. But Phantom of the Opera taps into your emotions in a way that's hard to describe and harder to forget. Do your life a favour and see this show to understand why.
Phantom of the Opera runs at the Artscape in Cape Town untill 14 January 2012 and at the Teatro at Montecasino in Johannesburg from 31 January 2012. Tickets start at R125 and can be purchased from www.computicket.com. Do it. Do it now.
Eugene graduated from the University of Cape Town with distinctions in financial accounting and classical piano. He then spent over two-and-half years working in branding and communications at two of South Africa's top market research companies. Eugene also spent over three-and-a-half years at an eLearning start-up, all while building his business as an award-winning writer.
Visit www.eugeneyiga.com, follow @eugeneyiga on Twitter, or email moc.agiyenegue@olleh to say, um, hello.
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