The Phantom of the Opera
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart, additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe, book by Richard Stilgoe & Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux
Her Majesty's Theatre
After 23 years at Her Majesty's Theatre, it may not really need it but Phantom (as it is fondly known) is about to get a new lease of life.
Next month at the Adelphi, its sequel Love Never Dies makes its debut and so this seems as good a time as any to catch up with a phenomenon that has become almost as popular a destination on the London tourist trail as The Mousetrap.
Musicals can often look tired by the time that the umpteenth cast has got bored with the daily grind of playing to full houses. However, the Lloyd Webber formula is strong enough to attract talented performers and wow global audiences who just keep coming back for more.
The latest Christine, following on from Sarah Brightman, who in 1986 was also Mrs Lloyd Webber, is Gina Beck . Helped by a stock wig, she has the fragile look of the original and sings beautifully, easily capable of hitting a high note and sustaining it.
Her character is faced with the age-old psychological riddle for a pretty girl - the choice between a well-heeled, worthy bore, Simon Bailey's Raoul, and a sexy, exciting masked monster, David Shannon playing the part originally created by Michael Crawford.
The setting designed by Maria Björnson in close association with original director Hal Prince makes the evening. The opera house is inevitably grand with scope for ballet, Grand Guignol and an assortment of colourful singers battling with dodgy artistic temperaments.
Here, chandeliers can collapse, fireworks explode and Phantoms rule the roost from the top of the sparkling golden proscenium. This setting also works spectacularly at the start of the second half, as the whole cast come on stage in gorgeous costumes to sing one of the show's musical highlights, Masquerade.
However, the most memorable images come when The Phantom takes Christine on a haunting gondola ride to his less than romantic underworld lair.
The plot, based on a book by Gaston Leroux, is pure melodrama as the two men fight over the girl, while the opera tries to go on as normal.
By the enigmatic ending, the audience was charmed, especially by the lovely Miss Beck, whose angelic singing peaked with Angel of Music, and her sinister admirer, whose voice combined an element of the chilling with great richness heard at its best in his gravelly theme tune, The Music of the Night.
Despite the odd fugue and rock riff, the music with its standard lush strings has not got the hummable numbers like Don't Cry for Me Argentina or Jesus Christ Superstar. Nor are all of the lyrics audible or especially telling but they serve their purpose as an accompaniment to an evening of spectacle and high quality performance in a popular package.
As Love Never Dies moves towards its opening night, there seems little doubt that after almost quarter of a century of constant success around the world, The Phantom of the Opera is set to stay at Her Majesty's for a good while longer.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher