It’s not often that we get an international theater production to play in Malaysia, so I was understandably excited when I got two tickets to watch The Phantom of the Opera live at Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur. The musical is based on the book by French writer Gaston Leroux, with music by world-renowned composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The Ed and I got there early to beat Friday evening traffic and had dinner at Istana Budaya’s cafeteria, which is open til late on show nights. The lobby had been spruced up to fit the Phantom of the Opera theme, the central piece being a staircase with the Phantom’s iconic mask projected onto the steps. There was a long line queuing up to take photos so we gave that a skip. There was also a booth selling Phantom merchandise, although tbh these were overpriced.
Note: Do NOT; I repeat, DO NOT buy any snacks or drinks from the booth next to the entrance. They don’t tell you that you’re actually NOT ALLOWED to bring any food or drinks into the theater, so you’ll have to leave all of that at the entrance. They should at least put up a sign; but I guess they’re just happy to take your money.
You are not allowed to take photos once the lights have dimmed, even if the show hasn’t started – we learnt this from the overzealous usher (unfortunately for us she was assigned to our section). We were also not allowed to scoot over a few seats despite those seats being empty, as she loudly and rudely told us to “RETURN TO YOUR SEATS”.
Once the music came on and the curtains were unfurled, though, it was a magical show from start to finish.
Young soprano Christine Daee gets her big break when Firmin and Andre, the new owners of the theatre, decide to cast her for the main role in a play to replace Carlotta, the resident primadonna. During Christine’s debut, her childhood friend Vicomte Raoul recognises her and delightedly asks her out backstage. Christine is torn, and as her friend Meg Giry comes to visit, Christine shares about how she owes her success to her ‘angel of music’, who has been teaching her behind the scenes. After Christine is left alone, the jealous Phantom appears in the mirror, leading her down to his secret lair underneath the opera house. As he composes music on his organ, a curious Christine rips his mask off and is horrified by his terribly disfigured face and runs off in fear. Initially furious, the Phantom doubles over in anguish, stating that he just wants to be loved. Christine takes pity on him and returns the mask, after which he escorts her back above ground.
The Phantom’s obsession with Christine escalates, and he makes more demands – to have Christine replace Carlotta in an upcoming show, for the new owners to keep Box 5 empty for him, and that Raoul stop seeing Christine – or else. Of course, they ignore this, to devastating consequences; as Carlotta’s voice becomes that of a toad during the show, and the stagehand, Joseph Buquet, is hanged from the catwalk. Christine escapes to the roof with Raoul and tells him the entire story, to which he promises to protect her. Unbeknownst to them, the Phantom has overheard everything and now vows vengeance for this ‘betrayal’.
Six months later, the Phantom appears at a Masquerade, announcing that he has written a new opera, and demands that Christine takes the lead role. Raoul wants to spring a trap to catch him, but Christine refuses, torn between her love for him and her awe for her teacher. Eventually, she takes up the lead role and in a scene, realises that the Phantom himself has come onto the stage to which she rips off his mask, exposing his face to the horrified public. He drags her down to his lair, pursued by Raoul and armed policemen. There, he catches Raoul in a noose and demands that Christine marry him or watch her lover die. Christine takes pity on his wretched existence and kisses him, showing him compassion for the very first time in his life.
The Phantom realizes that he cannot win Christine by force and sets them both free. The pair escape, and as the mob arrives in the chamber, the Phantom has disappeared, leaving only his mask.
With a 37-strong cast, a 15-piece live orchestra and over 200 elaborate costumes and set pieces, the Phantom of the Opera is a truly wonderful spectacle not to be missed. I was blown away by the quality of the performances, especially from heroine Christine and the Phantom, who portrayed the melancholic, tortured soul of the character to great effect.
Not only was the singing and music excellent (although the lyrics were hard to discern at times as it usually is with opera), the costumes and sets were dazzling and very well executed. I loved how the chandelier soared up to the roof from the stage in the opening act, and the Masquerade scene, where the theatre members were dancing in full regalia on a wide sweeping staircase, was equally enchanting. Another great scene was the part where the Phantom brings Christine to his subterranean lair, and the boat ‘glided’ on the ‘water’ – achieved through clever use of props and stage lighting. Of course, you get to enjoy all the classics, such as the original Phantom of the Opera theme, All I Ask of You, Think of Me and The Music of the Night.
The Phantom of the Opera live in Kuala Lumpur did not disappoint, and is well worth the price for fans of opera and theatre. The Ed, who has watched the original 20 years ago at West End, said it was comparable to the quality of that show – so it’s definitely world class! They’re running until July 7, so there is still time to catch the show. Ticket bookings can be made at ticketcharge.com.