I made a wish in June and in January it came true;
“Ben and Celinde have the best chemistry and I WISH they had some more performances coming up.” Me, myself and musicals post, June 2019.
Do you remember the massive soppy post I wrote back in June? Well here comes another one and yes, it is another phantom post. This was my birthday trip of the year for a one stop over to Greece for phantom. Back in November I screamed and cried when there was an announcement that Ben Forster, Celinde Schoenmaker, Lara Martins and Nadim Naaman we’re going to reunite as their original roles in an all new production of phantom in Greece.
As soon as the tickets were released, I searched the web for affordable flights because I am always broke in the winter. Found the perfect flights for direct returns in Jan for 100 and decided to go see the show twice in one day. That is the way I role and I would have 2 different views. Then heart break; I got an email saying the show had been pushed back 2 weeks due to set problems so I had to cancel everything because I couldn’t find affordable flights again. But I didn’t stop looking until I found the most ridiculous route that I could afford. 12 hours in Athens and then away.
A couple of weeks later I was having a look at the twitter previews for bad Cinderella and I saw a post that Carrie and Ben were going to be in Japan for the weekend I was going to see Phantom. Due to coronavirus this event got cancelled and Ben was going to stay on. He posted on the day however that he wasn’t going to be performing and Celinde wasn’t either. Amy Manford played Christine instead who is also amazing but I was a little heartbroken I wasn’t going to get to fulfil my fantasy of seeing my dream cast once again. But the thing about Phantom is no matter who sings behind the mask it will always have control of my heart.
The Christmas theatre was out of the centre of Athens so the best way to get there was by taxi. The centre was huge but the theatre was relatively small but it was revealed exactly why later on. This show had a smaller orchestra without a pulpit so could see exactly what there were doing which I learned to not pay attention too.
***Spoilers but it’s finished now so no harm in continuing!***
The start had Nadim playing old Raoul and buying his collectors piece as the illumination and music started. Being right next to the orchestra made it so powerful but the chandelier was already raised so that spine tingling moment as it was raised wasn’t there but the music still gave me the shivers. Lara playing Carlotta entered to the music of Hannibal. This was my first time having a different actor as senior Piangi (other than NYC) having seen Paul Ettore Tabone in the role several times. Lara and Paul were always a great comedy duo and Lara still had that chemistry and comic timing making Carlotta a bigger diva than ever. They even changed her “Primadonna” number to have her slapping the poor stage hand in the face for no reason. Her voice is also insane. New to the scene was a different Joesph Buquet, looking even creepier than Hadrian Delacey.
Meg and Christine entered, I couldn’t be sure who was who until they were introduced by the retiring manager. This production had Christine as a blonde (might of been Amy and Celindes real hair!) and Meg as a brunette which was different but didn’t take long to get used to and it was so much easier to follow Christine during the first scene as she didn’t disappear into the dancers. (Note to self; buy the programme as I cannot find the names!) Meg was played by Daisy Hulbert who I think I’ve seen before. She was very feisty and brought more determination to the character which I think wasn’t there before.
Christine was played by Amy Manford who I have seen perform as Christine before. I did hope to see Celinde perform but who can complain when you hear Amy’s voice. She kept Christine very sweet and innocent but forward thinking, not to mention she is stunning! Celinde’s version of Christine is very strong and bold so it’s really interesting to see the different interpretations.
Monsieur Andre and Firmin were played by Arvid Larsen and Sion Lloyd. I thought the casting was different for this pair and they were more flamboyant and funny than the London counterparts. I think the roles were really refreshed and very funny.
Madame Giry was played by the most stunning actress. I love that even though that the show is based in Paris Madame Giry has the strongest French accent out of all of the characters. Valerie Cutko portrayed Madame Giry, I feel she was more anxious in this production which made the danger more potent but she still retained that strict head teacher demeanour. The poor woman has such a hard time through the show! Valerie is stunning and I could make her out during Primadonna which added to my delight at the reimagining of the scene!
During “All I ask of you” in which Amy delighted us which her sweet notes I missed Raoul’s entrance as the boxes were just out of sight. I had a front row seat but it was slightly to the side so I was delighted when he poked out of the wing for his verse. I cannot tell you how happy I was to see Nadim perform as Raoul again. He was my first Raoul and I don’t think anyone has compared to his voice. I know I sound biased but I have sampled a lot of Raoul’s since. I think his maturity and beard brought a little more to the character and the small changes in the production made Raoul so much stronger in character and performance.
The iconic mirror scene which is always my second favourite scene was slightly out of my line of sight as well. The mirror was a vast round ornament the same size as the dressing room which also looked like a window to allow Chris McGuigs entrance as the Phantom. Of course, it wasn’t Ben, I wasn’t lucky enough to see him and of course I was a little disheartened but after all it is the mask not the voice I come to see. Chris’s portrayal reminded me a little of Gaston, he starts off strong and powerful but then gets darker through the performance and you hear it in his voice and singing. Not many performers have that ability and this production portrayed the phantom as vulnerable and unsure and get darker throughout the show which suited the scenes perfectly. When the Phantom took Christine away for the theme song, Raoul is left ominously by the mirror as the set is wheeled away giving the set change time.
As the Phantom and Christine sing, they appear at the top of a large rotating staircase where you get to watch them sing the whole song, not just appear and disappear. The work their way down the stage where there is a boat waiting for them. The stairs added an extra element of drama. When they get on to sing the stairs rotate the opposite way the boat is going. Giving off the impression they are moving. It was so simple but an ingenious set design. As Christine hits the high notes the Phantoms reimagined layer appears with just a massive organ in a dark gloomy cave. Amy and Chris managed to give me those chills which only the best do!
During “music of the night” and “Dam you” the Phantom shows Christine his world and offers the timid girl his music that’s he’s written and the pair bond. He keeps his distance and remains timid. I loved this approach as the classic bride in the mirror just registers a stage five clinger these days. He seemed more hurt than angry when she stole his mask and the cave walls brought the impression of fear and entrapment in his lair making the whole scene a lot darker. Chris gave a dam good rendition of music of the night and getting that final note at the end.
During “Notes” and “Primadonna” this is the bit which I always get a little confused at. While I can make out what Carlotta is singing, I literally have no idea what anyone else says in the back. Well guess what. I could hear everyone this time. I don’t know if it was the position on stage or if Nadim can get his voice as strong as Lara’s but I actually knew what was happening. I’ve said for a while that was the shows weak point and they sorted it! I’ve got to wonder if they change the voice recordings for the notes when the understudy is on as I think I recognised Ben’s voice.
“Poor foul” was very funny but I missed the Phantom running around in the rafters from London which I think brought a little bit more mischief to the scene. When the ballet was brought on and Bouquet was killed. Instead of a prop they had him dangling from the ceiling making the scene more realistic and a lot scarier.
The stairs returned with Nadim and Amy singing the song before “All I ask of you”. The pair of them argue on the stairs as Christine shows her obvious fear and runs up as Raoul tries to comfort her. She enters a door in the stairs and it rotates round to show the roof top. Christine is sitting on the roof sad and vulnerable as Raoul comforts her with “All I ask of you”. I loved this part and my heart melted as these small tweaks made the scene so sweet and Raoul so much stronger. Instead of the kiss at the end he actually proposes to her which would make their secret engagement a full month long. When they leave the Phantom appears at the side of the roof utterly betrayed. Your heart just went out to the Phantom but this is the point I noticed the evil change in Chris’s voice. Another question, is the background singing of Raoul and Christine live of pre-recorded to sound distant? This led to the decent of the chandelier giving me a fright as it came down on my head!
“Masquerade” started the second half. Normally I am not fond of this scene as I think the stairs with the dummies take away from the scene even though it is the most spectacular scene of the show. This production didn’t have it. The hall was inspired by the hall of mirrors of Versailles with a large fireplace at the end. The costumes were slicker and I loved Raoul’s pirate coat. The mirrors and depths allowed for some clever choreography and dancing before the Phantom appeared in the fireplace having descended into madness. Raoul had more room to move to face off with the Phantom. The set remained for the scenes of the company trying to underhand the Phantom.
The scene was so much more dramatic with the windows and conveyed Raoul’s struggle to convince Christine to rid them of the Phantom once and for all. A simple spot light and a chair for Raoul to sit on was all it took. Genius. I felt more for Christine as she was being forced to sing but what other choice did, they have? Sorry I am quite engrossed in the story at this point! Christine goes up the stairs once more to reach the roof singing little Lottie until the stage rotates. Instead of being on the grave yards she sings to they sky. I love “wishing you were somehow here again”. I think it is the most beautiful song and Amy made it so emotional and deep. I wish I had her belting power. I always lose it in that song. As she finishes the Phantom enters and the hair stood up on the back of my neck.
“Wandering Child” is without a doubt my favourite song. I love the three leads signing together. I am biased and I don’t think anyone can sing Raoul’s part but Nadim. (I have looked!) but on finding a video as Chris as Raoul I think he is bloody spectacular in the role too. I may have to try and find a way to see him live as Raoul to see if he can break the record. If it would even be possible. But Nadim will always be my number one and I get the chills just thinking about the three of them. I will always love Nadim, Ben and Celinde but Amy and Chris were so magical together I got the same buzz from these three as much I do from my favs. This was the Phantoms last ditch attempt to get Christine back and the point where the evil surfaced in his voice. What a man that Chris!
I had read that the Greece crowd really loved the “point of no return” scene. The dynamic had changed with the raw energy and anticipation between Amy and Chris. I really want to perform this one day! The evil was still there in the Phantoms voice but the seduction of the pair between and over the table was palpable. The Phantom has Christine in his arms as his hood falls and she is under his spell as he emotionally sings All I ask. Instead of her taking off his mask he pulls it off himself as he runs. It was different but I think it was better when she removed it and then Piangi’s body is revealed.
Once more my favourite stairs appear as the Phantom drags Christine into the decent of his madness as they escape from the hunters. Chris was completely barmy. Then Raoul appears in the stairs as it rotates back to the Phantoms layer as Christine and the Phantom appear once more. Christine is more assertive and stronger despite her fear. The Phantom is more at the end of his tether until Raoul appears climbing down the side of the stage. I love this set as the added drama from the height, stairs and cave just make the scene so much creepier. Instead of Raoul being choked by a floating rope the Phantom chokes him by the boat while Christine cowers at the side of the cave. At this point Chris went full Gaston. How can someone be performed so much drama in his voice and then realises he’s gone too far when Christine fights back. And poor Raoul is dying in the side. Oh, the drama of the end scene.
I was already crying at this point when the phantom loses his patience. When Christine kisses the Phantom, I wept. I still cry thinking about it. And I could see poor Raoul’s face as he struggles. Eugh my poor heart. When the Phantom sends them away, he cowers on the side of the cave signing to the music box as the hunters arrive. He looks back as he hears Christine and Raoul sings. BUT SHE DOESN’T COME BACK FOR HIM! My heart which was broken just fell to pieces as he sings, I love you. Sometimes I think Christine chose wrong! The tears coming down Chris’s face were only second to none to mine! The real thorn was after the Phantom leaves Raoul appears in his chair aged clutching the box and staring at a memory of Christine who died. It was all replayed in his mind! Utterly heart breaking and dramatic. And they got changed so quickly for the bows. WOW!!! I don’t think I coped well with the ending!
If you hadn’t noticed already, I loved this production. It was a dream come true and it was so fresh. The ingenious set, redesign and just tiny details gave the show so much more depth. I still think there are we things which could make Christine stronger but this show gave Raoul SOOO much more depth and emotion. Chris blew me away; I know I keep comparing him to Gaston but who else has the voice ability to do that while singing. Amy was incredible. I love her! She’s so graceful and the power which comes out of her is amazing. And Nadim, I loved seeing him perform again. I don’t think I will ever get over him as Raoul but I think Chris might. Was I a little sad not to see Ben and Celinde? Yes, but its about the mask not the voice behind it.
I was gutted to read that only the day after I saw the show it was cancelled due to the corona virus when it still had three weeks left to run. Obviously, health has to come first but the actors were blindsided and sent home. The show will continue but it is hard to know when and I was looking at flights to return. I am hoping it will open again in the fall as I don’t think I could cope with the summer heat in Greece even for a few hours. The airport was hot enough as it was. The dream is not over, the phantom will return to Greece. My hopes remain to go and see it and hopefully see Ben and Celinde but I don’t mind. Otherwise we will need to wait until Halloween to see the tour as I have reviewed this year cast. Keep your eyes peeled and stay healthy!
It’s over now the music of the night!