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Phantom of the Opera - up close and personal

26 April 2012 Katie Moritz

Let us take you behind the scenes at the world famous Phantom of the Opera - find out more about the cast, costumes, props and secrets.

Am I the last person in London to see the Olivier Award winning super musical, Phantom of the Opera? The musical, based on a story by Gaston Leroux, celebrated twenty-five years last year and over 10,000 performances at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the West End (and three special performances in the Albert Hall streamed globally, featuring original cast members).
 
I was lucky enough, through a chance encounter with a lovely cast member, Carmen, to experience Phantom for the first time, from the extraordinary vantage point of the sound desk, along with a backstage tour! I’ll tell you a little bit about what I saw ‘behind the scenes’, but don’t worry, I won’t spoil the magic.
 
My evening started with an excited knock on the stage door. The first step I took led me straight into the bright lights of the stage, which was set for the first scene, with the enormous chandelier hidden underneath canvas. We weaved through the wings, past the Phantom’s organ (with real music perched on top) and the figures from the Masquerade scene and the elephant from scene one. All the props were beautifully made, with exquisite attention to detail.
 
Below the stage I saw the vague outline of the candelabras from the Phantom’s underground lair, the stage drop area and the orchestra’s pit.
 
Upstairs I met cast member after cast member, including Christine Sofia Escobar, who plays Christine and the Phantom himself, Peter Jöbak (who was getting ready for his one hour of make up). People were delighted that I was seeing the show for the very first time, as a ‘blank canvas’, so to speak.
 
I touched beautiful costumes for the masquerade ball, with incredible detail and weight. There is an entire room full of wigs, which are set each night for each individual cast member. The cast do their own make up with the assistance of the make up supervisor. Each dressing room reminded me of something out of a Lautrec or Degas painting. All the sets, costumes and scene designs are still to Maria Bjornson’s original design.
 
We climbed the stairs up to the fly floor, to see set pieces and the stage below. Here I saw the listed thunder trap, which was used to create thunder effects (a bit like a wall mounted pinball machine) and the original theatre chandelier.
 
At the start of the show the sound engineer led me backstage, through the stalls, to my most special seat for the evening. The sound desk was very interesting – for instance, stage members have a mike concealed in their wig and there are hundreds of sound effects, such as the Phantom organ and thunder.
 
So, what of the show itself? I could see the effect of the costumes, props and sets from the stalls having seen the detail close up. I jumped at the chandelier flying towards the stage. My bones shook to the booming organ in the reprise of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. The singing was incredible - such well-known melodies being performed a few metres away. I loved the clever use of perspectives around the stage within a stage.
 
The cast and crew divulged some secrets after the show. Did you know the chandelier weighs nearly a tonne? Or that the amazing masquerade stairs concertina flat? I found out the secret of the Phantom’s final disappearance and the magic of how the boat moves. I’m sworn to secrecy, but see if you can figure it out yourself when you see the show!
 
The experience of going backstage and seeing people getting ready, watching the performance then meeting the cast and crew afterwards gave me a very rounded impression of the team involved. Phantom is performed night after night by people with a great passion - a production with high quality performance, costumes, props and tech. As I left the cast we were debating the nature of Christine’s love for the Phantom and Raoul – a story they have told thousands of times, yet it still maintains mystery, even for them. 

Image credits: Masquerade image - Catherine Ashmore, Phantom and Christine image - Michael Le Poer Trench

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