Even for those who know little about musical theatre, The Phantom Of The Opera rings a loud bell. For theatre heads, this Andrew Lloyd Webber masterpiece, one of many, is more than just a play: It resembles life, love, loss, lust and human struggle, and the Phantom has become a symbol of a tortured soul, a lovelorn extremist behind the iconic half-faced white mask.
Twenty-six years after the musical opened in London, The Phantom Of The Opera is finally coming to Bangkok courtesy of BEC-Tero Entertainment and Scenario. Initially, the show had been slated for three weeks, but popular demand has already extended the season for a further week.
"We've been in talks with The Phantom Of The Opera since Scenario put Cats on in 2007," said Scenario founder and famed director Takolkiat Weerawan. "It's a dream coming true. I consider The Phantom Of The Opera as one of the best musicals of all time. I believe that Thai people can relate to the play directly, and empathise with the Phantom easily."
The longest-running show in Broadway history and the second-longest in the West End, where it debuted in 1986 at Her Majesty's Theatre, The Phantom Of The Opera is also one of the most honoured, having taken numerous Olivier and Tony awards. It is estimated The Phantom has been seen by more than 130 million people in 145 cities in 27 countries, and the total worldwide gross is about US$5.6 billion (164 billion baht). The original, and most popular, actors to play the leading characters of the Phantom and Christine were Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. However, Takolkiat says the show is greater than any single performer.
"The story engages you emotionally," said Takolkiat. "This monster mesmerises you, and then you wonder maybe he's really just another human being like all of us who go through agony and pain to realise what true love really means. It has everything from a beautiful set, an amazing score to an intriguing story and characters."
Based on the novel Le Fantome de l'Opera by Gaston Leroux, who was inspired when visiting the Paris Opera House, the show tells the story of the Phantom, a disfigured musical genius who lives under the opera house, and how he falls obsessively in love with Christine Daae, a breathtaking soprano.
A dashing noble, Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, is Christine's love interest. The plot encompasses true love, loneliness, misguided obsession, revenge and much more.
For the Bangkok production, Broadway veteran Brad Little is the Phantom, newcomer Claire Lyon plays Christine, and Anthony Downing takes on Raoul. Little has played the Phantom more than 2,000 times, but admits to feeling the same buzz every evening.
"When I hear the music behind the mirror, it still excites me," he said. "Who knew the half-chord progression could be so exciting! There are very few men who have played the Phantom. Most men who have played the role of the Phantom play it longer than any other role they do because it's so much fun. It doesn't get boring."
Little has played Raoul in other productions, but his love for the broken, tormented character is evident on and off stage.
"I can choose emotions from my daily life, and take it out on the Phantom. I've played this role in so many different ways. I can play the Phantom in an empowered loving way if I have a good day. The other day, my father-in-law passed, and it was an emotional day, so I could play Phantom with all those emotions, and not fight it.
"With the Phantom, I literally have the liberty to take my daily life and bring it to work when a lot of the time when you're acting you can't do that.
"It's really hard to be a bad Phantom. You really have to try hard to be a bad Phantom because it's written beautifully; you just need to bring the emotions."
Lyon is a triple-threat with operatic singing, ballet and acting abilities, and is able to exercise them all in her rendition of Christine. It's not every day we get to see Christine professionally trained in all three.
"Each actress can play Christine differently," she said. "I've played Christine in [the sequel] Love Never Dies, so I know where she is headed after her Phantom journey. I'd say I take the naivety of Christine in the beginning, and make her grow into a woman essentially by the end of the show. Everyone is gonna play the show differently, and you can't expect to copy anyone's performance."
Little has high praise for Lyon, who is new to the role. Both regard their stage synergy as a pivotal part in the success of the pairing, and they accept one another's creative energy as it changes every night.
"Not all Christines challenge me," Little said. "Claire is amazing. I've worked with Christines who had to do the role the exact same ways all the time. That's when it gets tough for me. I get very frustrated. I just have to come to terms with it. That being said, at the end of the show, the audiences still love it."
Asked why many people around the world have identified with the Phantom _ who kills, threatens and kidnaps to prove his love _ Little reasons there's a part of a disfigured man inside every single one of us, and that's why Phantom seems more real than many other musical theatre characters.
"The Phantom is just a plethora of possible journeys. He's a monster, a lover, a composer _ he's got so many facets to him. Here's a man who has lived in the bottom of an opera house all his life, but he has this passion for music. His [world view] is based on operas. So killing for love? That's normal in operas. So when the Phantom kills for Christine, it's not like the killing we do now.
"That is just what he has been taught by all these operas.
"When he sees Christine for the first time, finally there's someone he's willing to take in his life. What she does, she slowly strips him off of his facades, and he slowly becomes more human. He's not understood. He's not a bad person. He's a passionate person. At the end of the show, he finally knows what love really means."
As The Phantom Of The Opera will be staged at Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre, some have questioned whether the structure and size can accommodate such a grand production with massive costumes and props. The biggest question mark lies on the famous scene when the chandelier drops.
Takolkiat said: "When I first had the idea to build Rachadalai, my instructions were to do whatever needed to be done for this theatre to be able to house The Phantom Of The Opera. The production team of The Phantom came to check on the condition of the theatre, and they said everything would be fine. They've approved. I don't know why people would think it couldn't be done."
With the show set to open next month, the two lead cast members ask Bangkok residents not to miss the spectacular, for their own sake.
"It's therapy," said Little. "Not just for us, but also for the audience. That's one of the reasons why the show is so successful. The Phantom has helped so many people fight their handicaps, giving them courage. It has been a show of therapy for many, and myself included."
Lyon said: "It's one of those shows that keeps on growing on you. Come more than once because you'll see different things every time."
The Phantom Of The Opera is from May 7 to June 9 at Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre. Tickets cost 5,500, 4,000, 3,000, 2,500 and 1,500 baht and are available at www.thaiticketmajor.com and all Thai Ticket Major kiosks.
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About the author
- Writer: Onsiri Pravattiyagul
Position: Entertainment Editor