Ken Hill's Phantom of the Opera
Written for The Michael McCarthy Page by Anne Shilton
In the world of musicals, the title “Phantom of the Opera” is usually inextricably linked with the name of Andrew Lloyd Webber. But not in this case. This was the “other” Phantom - Ken Hill’s version - written in 1984 and thus pre-dating the Lloyd-Webber version. The basic story is the same, although the treatment is very different. Christine Daae is an aspiring opera singer whose father promised on his deathbed that he would send her the Angel of Music. When a mysterious, golden-voiced, masked being appears and begins to coach her, her voice improves dramatically, and she accepts him as the promised “Angel”. In the meantime, the new owners of the Paris Opera house are becoming increasingly annoyed by the activities of the Opera Ghost - demanding his allowance, and that Miss Daae should sing the principal part in Faust. These orders are accompanied by numerous notes, and when the demands are not met, the “accidents” begin to happen!
Eventually Vicomte Raoul - much in love with Christine - discovers the truth about her Angel, that he and the evil Opera Ghost are one and the same. But by now the Phantom has kidnapped Christine. Accompanied and helped by a mysterious Persian (who turns out to be the Phantom’s long-lost brother) he sets out to rescue Christine. Meanwhile, Christine is in dire (Daae?) trouble. Knowing she will never love him in life, the Phantom’s plan is to marry Christine, and then kill himself and her so that they can be together in death. Fortunately for Christine, Raoul - now accompanied by the entire entourage - arrives just in the nick of time. Faced with his accusers, the Phantom at first threatens to murder Christine, then frees her and turns the knife on himself. Ken Hill’s Phantom bears little similarity to its more famous younger brother, other than the title, and the fact that both are musicals. This version is a musical comedy, and is often extremely funny. The songs may not be household names, but the score is often melodic and some of the numbers are beautiful - notably “While Floating High Above” (Phantom) and “To Pain My Heat Selfishly Dooms Me” (Phantom, Raoul and Christine).
The comedy is a mixture of farce, pantomime and tongue-in-cheek medodrama - with some serious and tragic undertones provided by the “straight” roles of the Phantom and Christine. Much of the show is a “send-up” of Opera, particularly Opera as it used to be, for example Carlotta’s complaint when asked to put on her jewellery whilst singing - “don’t you realise how difficult it is to sing and move at the same time.” And although this Phantom predates the Andrew Lloyd Webber version, a few modern changes enable it to poke subtle fun at its more famous younger brother. Throughout the first act attention is focused on the big chandelier in the auditorium, until the audience sitting beneath it keep a nervous eye open in anticipation of its fall - only for the much smaller chandelier on the stage to crash down into the hapless Carlotta. This gives rise to one of the most amusing lines in the show, as Faust holds up her severed head with the comment “That’ll cure her nodules!”
Michael McCarthy captured the tormented personality of the Phantom well, alternating between bitter anger, tenderness and torment. Michael also ensured that this Phantom truly was an “Angel of Music.” His deeper notes were wonderfully seductive, and he sang the hauntingly beautiful “While Floating High Above” with a heart-stopping purity.
Outstanding in the comedy roles were Mark Wynter’s Richard (the hapless new manager of the Opera House) and Patrick Clancy’s Faust. Matt Hodgson was also hilarious in his portrayal of five different comic characters. Overall, a well produced, well acted and amusing production, which I thoroughly enjoyed.