So, at the end of last month I returned to London for that famous happening that marks a Saturday in the city’s theatrical circles- the two show day. For me, this was made up of good friends, a visit to Dublin and Once, and an evening in Paris with Phantom of the Opera!
My first visit to the Phoenix theatre and the musical Once was back in May of this year, and I fell completely in love with it then, and this love has only increased after my recent return visit. What I love about this show is the fact it’s raw, beautiful and refreshing- I don’t think there’s anything quite like it gracing a West End Stage at the moment and I hope it continues to go from strength to strength. The cast are all incredibly talented and have a tremendous sense of camaraderie and energy that radiates from them every second they are onstage. Back in May, I remember being completely bowled over by Declan’s vocals, but this trip I felt he has taken the role of Guy to another level. Leave was a particular highlight this time round, from the opening note till the end of the song I was completely in the moment and was so moved that for a while I forgot I was in an auditorium full of people, I even got a little teary! Same can be said of leading lady Zrinka- I loved her portrayal of Girl my first visit but could sense a transformation in my eyes- she’s really upped the ante and I felt that she has really connected more with the emotional side of Girl and was able to bring that out in spades, whilst not losing any of impact of the warmth and humour that she brings out so well- the audience again lapped every joke up. My favourite continues to be her: ‘I’m always serious. I’m Czech’.
The chemistry between the leading pair has developed even from my first visit (where I thought it something brilliant) into something truly special- it felt to me like they have really come to know their characters really well and this made for a show that had real fire and special energy about it. My first visit saw the brilliant Tim Parker in the role of Billy, so I was excited to see how I’d take the usual Billy Aidan Kelly. I can delightedly confirm that I love both interpretations. I found Aidan’s Billy to be a lot more intense and wacky than Tim’s, but all this meant were plenty of laughs and I loved every minute of his performance. Another change for me was seeing Robbie White on for the role of Eamon, and while if I’m being honest I personally prefer Gareth in the role- I thought Robbie did a good job and I’d be keen to see him again. Special mentions to Jez Unwin who was ON FIRE as the Bank Manager- his solo number Abandoned in Bandon got loads of laughs and many a cheer, and Jos Slovick who continues to wow me as Andre.
My thanks to this marvellous cast for another wonderful afternoon, and Declan and Jez for their time afterwards.
Now to the Opera House!
In my experience of musical theatre, with regard to two shows, you’re either on Team Phantom and go see that most often, or Team Mis and go to that show most often. I myself fall firmly into the latter camp. It’s not that I dislike Phantom of the Opera, on the contrary I think Lord Lloyd Webber is a genius, I personally just connect more with the lyrics, story and characters of Les Misérables. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed my 4 visits to Phantom while it was on tour last year, in particular my final visit in Cardiff with Earl Carpenter in the title role. On the back of my enjoyment of the touring production, I decided it was about time I revisit the ‘Brilliant Original’ after a break of six years.
Scott Davies was on as Phantom and I thought he was utterly marvellous. For me, I take the sign of a good Phantom to be those who give me goose bumps from their opening: ‘Brava, Brava… Bravissima’, and if they can move me with the intensity that Scott did in those few seconds, then they’ll capture my heart. I was so grateful to have my friend Kristine there to look after me as come the Final Lair I was sobbing! Luckily, Scott found this endearing when I complimented his performance afterwards.
Antony Hansen was on for Raoul and I thought he did a great job. I found his voice strong and my eye was drawn to him throughout- I loved how he took a character that I generally find to be a bit of a wet blanket and give him strength and authority, made me want to care. Favourite moment was right at the end of Notes/Twisted Every Way just before the Don Juan rehearsal where he acknowledges war between himself and the Phantom.
I’m going to admit something that may shock some of you, but… Christine is probably my most hated female character in my entire knowledge of musical theatre. I just find her incredibly soppy and extremely irritating, so it would so take somebody special to make me connect with her, and unfortunately I didn’t find it with Sofia Escobar. While I don’t deny that she is incredibly talented vocally, I certainly couldn’t sing half the notes she has too, her acting left me incredibly frustrated- it felt to me like she had almost become too comfortable in the role and was just going through the motions. I felt no passion or conviction from her, everything came across flat. One particular moment that really wound me up was during the same scene I praised with Antony. Here, Christine is meant to cry out in fear and frustration that she’ll go mad and tell Raoul that she’s scared, but it just came across as empty and emotionless to me. Like I say, I don’t deny that she is talented, but I really didn’t take to her interpretation. One pairing I did love though was Andy Hockley & Martin Ball, Firmin & André respectively. I fell in love with Andy as Firmin on the tour, so it was a pleasure to see him continue here. The pair of them had great chemistry and were incredibly funny. Special mention also to Jeremy Secomb as Piangi. My favourite scenes remain Masquerade & Final Lair, I was reminded what a feast for the eyes and ears this show is and I was glad I decided to finally make that return visit.