“Be seduced” state the posters which loom large around London promoting this behemoth of a musical.
This year marks its thirtieth year on the West End stage. While others have come and gone, there’s a reason audiences are still lured into the gloriously gothic world of the Phantom: because it’s utterly intoxicating.
Crashing chandeliers, sweeping sets and music that will leave you with your heart in your mouth come together with hugely dramatic effect in arguably one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest pieces of theatre.
Behind the mask for 2016 is Sunderland theatre star Ben Forster who has taken on the title role.
And what a role it is. You shouldn’t like the Phantom (whose real name is the less spectacular-sounding Erik): he’s a malevolent soul who skulks around in the shadows of the Paris Opera House plotting against others in his quest to woo chorus girl Christine Daaé. But, despite your better judgement, I defy anyone not to be mesmerised by this masked man.
He may not be able to attract the object of his desire with his physical appearance, but he has his hypnotic voice.
As those iconic hard rock organ and drum notes kick in for the title song, it sweeps you along the dry ice lake which leads to the Phantom’s lair. It’s an ’80s powers ballad at its best: loaded with bold drama and passion.
On the other end of the scale, Music of the Night is a more subtle enchantment as the power of the lyrics entice you deeper into the dark world of the eponymous hero.
The beauty to his beast is Christine, played by Celinde Schoenmaker, who’s torn between her compassion for the Phantom and her passion for childhood sweetheart Raoul. It’s a huge soprano sing for any actress, and Celinde pulls it off with aplomb, striking the right balance between being an innocent, yet feisty, heroine.
Her voice is beautifully crystal-clear and simply soars in All I Ask of You. For this isn’t a one-trick musical with just a memorable title track, it hits you with an unrelenting score of musical masterpieces.
The costumes are a leading character in themselves and are some one of the most spectacularly opulent I’ve seen in the West End, particularly in the Masquerade scene, a pulsating tapestry of sumptuous frocks and a rich kaleidoscope of Venetian-style masks.
And the set, the set is simply epic, transporting you from the candlelit bowels of the Paris Opera House to its grandiose wings as the Phantom sends the mighty chandelier crashing to the ground. They don’t make ‘em like this any- more.
This was musical seduction at its most sublime. No doubt the Phantom will haunt audiences for another thirty years.
•Katy travelled with the Spirit of Sunderland service. It departs from Sunderland weekdays at 5.40am, arriving in London King’s Cross just after 9am and returning at 8pm. Visit www.virgintrainseastcoast.com.