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REDISCOVER The Phantom of the Opera Manila (Update 2)

No wonder it runs for 26 years now. The Phantom of the Opera is simply magical.

The world-renowned musical created by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and which was originally directed by Harold Prince, embarked on a world tour as part of its 25th anniversary that kicked off last year. The tour is currently in Manila, Philippines, and is on a super extended run until Sunday, October 14, and soon after, the tour flies to Seoul, South Korea.

Filipinos — from young and old — and expats and diplomats and among other “who’s who” — flocked to see the musical that first made headlines in West End and Broadway. (Apparently, this was not the first time it was staged in the Philippines as mostly publicized, because The Phantom first set foot here in 1997, if Wikipedia got it right. This writer tries to find proof of this but a the moment, her online searches yielded no verifiable results.)

Audiences waiting at the CCP Main Theater Lobby, minutes before the show starts

The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Main Theater was filled to full capacity on Sunday, September 30, matinee show. The Filipino audience did not scrimp on expressing their appreciation of the talents (mostly from the South African run of the musical) performing for them, and you could hear the gushes and oohhs as the opulent, multi-million worth stage design transforms magically from one scene, from act to another. This was also the same stage set used in the South African staging of the musical.

The thunderous applause and wild cheers during more popular numbers like the hauntingly rock-ish The Phantom of the Opera (where the Phantom brings Christine to his lair), the truly soulful serenade, The Music of the Night, and the lovebirds’ duet, All I Ask of You, proved that the audiences got what they paid for, as the tickets were pricey. (As noticed, it almost shoot to 100 percent versus ticket prices for Mamma Mia! The Smash Hit Musical staged in the same venue early 2012).

The mask, the brand

The mask that is identifiable with the disfigured, musical genius Erik The Phantom, has also became an iconic brand over the years.

Taken during the break, and photos shot from the best angle possible. From left topmost: audiences started to come in; the stage before the show; audiences after the well-applauded performance; the grand chandelier and opulent stage

Wherever it goes, the mask, the musical re-creates its splendor: from the talents that on a par with the original Phantom Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman as the first Christine Daae; to a very grand stage design and colorful, incredibly beautiful costumes originally done by the late Maria Björnson; to hiring local talents for the cast and crew as the world tour’s immersion in their host country and to share knowledge and expertise with them — all these made a winning formula resulting in mostly sold-out performances.

From drab to fab: that was how the CCP Main Theater stage was transformed.

From this writer was seated, she keeps figuring out how did the tall candelabras and the seemingly floating candles appeared on the stage’s floor, as seen when The Phantom and Christine crossed a subterranean lake; or how the chandelier fell (it did not fall exactly, it was a few inches away from the floor much to the dismay of an audience member whom this writer heard ranting). But hey, it was still stunning how it was hoisted up with all the blindingly techno lights and the roaring, frightening overture accompanying it; or how The Phantom’s voice reverberated in the entire theater during the Notes and Notes/Twisted Every Way numbers; how the well-adorned stage transforms — during the Hannibal number, and Masquerade, Don Juan Triumphant, and most especially, to The Phantom’s ghostly lair; or where The Phantoms suddenly appears — from the uppermost beam that supports that two heavily adorned columns set on stage or from the angel that was lowered and hoisted up again as from where The Phantom maniacally sings his wrath (All I Ask of You Reprise/Chandelier Crash) or how he disappeared from his seat and all Meg Giry saw left was his mask (actually, we were waiting for The Phantom to appear exactly in front of us).

Talents abound

South-African Jonathan Roxmouth headlines the Manila tour as The Phantom.

To set the expectations, it is unfair to the young, talented thespian to be compared with Crawford (or any actor who played or will play Phantom). As heard from most of the elderly audiences yesterday who apparently have seen Crawford performed and found Roxmouth’s portrayal lacking.

Roxmouth dealt with the antihero in the best way he knows how: while The Phantom was a tormented, angry being, and which were wholly portrayed as such by other actors who played this well-beloved musical theater lead, Roxmouth made his version of The Phantom rightfully more human. He was maniacal when he needed to be, he begged for kindness and love that you could not possibly ignore him. Roxmouth stamps his mark as The Phantom, as how Ramin Karimloo made his Phantom 25th anniversary performance at the Royal Albert Hall truly memorable.

Roxmouth is definitely a skilled singer, but there were times his voice was strained or drowned when he sings along with Christine (played by Emilie Lynn, the alternate to Claire Lyon). His version of The Music of the Night was in itself sorrowful, sympathetic, and merited his own, new legion of fans now from this side of the globe. During the curtain call, you could hear Roxmouth saying “whew!” a show that he was seemingly amazed by the thunderous, endless, applause they were receiving.

Raoul was played by another South African actor, Anthony Downing. The general consensus was that the stage actor is dashing. But more than the looks, Downing sang All I Ask of You not just to express his love, devotion, and promise to protect Christine, but he seemingly sang it to each and every audience watching, listening, mesmerized with him. And the audience felt it and they responded via social media: a Twitter account for Downing was made by his gushing Filipino fans (@AntDowningPH).

Lynn was not “only” an alternate to Lyon (who apparently was sick and did not make it to her Sunday performance), for she is Christine Daae in her own right. The beautiful stage actress (who also holds a modeling portfolio) unbelievably sings powerfully. She hit the truly high notes in The Phantom of the Opera number, which is indeed a very difficult one but her version made it on a par with that of Brightman — and most recently, of Sierra Boggess’ rendition in the 25th anniversary edition of The Phantom. While the usual reaction was disappointment when audiences “only” watched an alternate performed, yesterday’s reaction to Lynn’s performance was “She was ‘just’ an alternate? No kidding!” She amazingly delivered. Of course, this writer is still curious how Lyon tackles the role of Christine.

Downing and Lynn made a beautiful pair on stage, but the chemistry is not that palpable. Surely, they can still work it out and make themselves more endearing. Overall, the pair made a very good impression.

The rest of the cast was equally talented as well: from Pauline du Plessis (as Carlotta Guidicelle, the Paris Opera House diva); Rebecca Spencer (as ballet headmistress Madame Giry); to Thabiso Masemene (as Ubaldo Piangi, with Filipino tenor Dondi Ong as alternate); to ballet dancer and Christine’s friend, Meg Giry (played by Cat Lane, who like any Meg before her, bears that template of a curious, schoolgirl-like semblance).

Arts and music for all

The lasting prowess of The Phantom of the Opera lies in the fact that it is timeless. It cuts across generations. It is truly universal that the audiences the world over learned to love what is supposedly a sad, tormented oeuvre based on the novel, Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux.

What makes this Manila cast of The Phantom of the Opera more endearing to the Filipino audience is they harness the power of social media. During their free time, they respond to queries/tweets to them. They are stars who are within reach.

Indeed, when an art was properly executed from vision to action, properly migrated and positioned from one medium to another, it would definitely yield good business for years, as The Phantom of the Opera exemplifies.

It will be noteworthy to see how Love Never Dies (the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera) will be received by the Filipino audiences. But this writer thinks this is not going to happen soon. But she could be wrong.

Of course, my souvenir photo. And for someone who covered CCP events in the past and toured the building as part of her job as a lifestyle and entertainment writer, why, at this very occasion, I forgot about the stage door? Why? Sigh ….

Wondering now what is the next big hit production to see here in 2013?

For ticket inquiries, check Ticketworld.

The Phantom of the Opera will run until Sunday, October 14, 2012.

Photos by the author unless stated otherwise.

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