INTERVIEW: @fantomedelopera

Interview

Twitter account @fantomedelopera tweets all about Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra / The Phantom of the Opera, haunting the Palais Garnier since its 1909 serialization, and its many adaptations.

→ Tell us about your Twitter account, @fantomedelopera.

It was set up to be a kind of news service for anyone interested in the latest developments in the Phantom of the Opera world. But there’s a general focus on the novel and the 1925 film, as those are two personal favourites.

→ In your opinion, what has made Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical adaptation such a worldwide success?

It’s a phenomenal score, and the alchemy of the original production is hard to beat. Also, the story itself naturally lends itself to a theatrical setting, being of and about the theatre.

→ Recently, there have been some quite drastic changes to the production in London’s West End. Can you tell us more about that?

Yes, the producers have halved the orchestra, from twenty-seven down to fourteen, and veterans of the show have been unceremoniously fired.

Designer Maria Björnson’s opulent proscenium has been dismantled, with the central descending Angel – her favorite setpiece – removed altogether. Even the iconic boat scene has been impacted, with the candelabra no longer moving. The lighting is now far brighter and more saturated, too, and the Phantom no longer stalks the catwalk above the stage.

Lloyd Webber’s bizarre insistence that the 2021 version is “substantially identical” to the original, and remains director Hal Prince’s production “in its entirety”, has caused confusion amongst audiences who were promised an “enhanced” show. Prince, who died in July 2019, opposed changes to the production. The so-called “brilliant original” is no more in Britain. Some minor restaging aside, however, it can still be seen on Broadway and in Japan.

→ What’s the future for Gaston Leroux’s story? Do you think the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical will ever close?

I don’t think the Broadway production will outlast the end of this decade. France has recently played host to two straight-play adaptations. Several TV and film adaptations are planned, including a movie musical produced by John Legend, set in modern-day New Orleans. Every year a new graphic novel or computer game based on the Phantom of the Opera is released. Follow me on Twitter; I’ll keep you posted!

Follow @fantomedelopera on Twitter.

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YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN | Hong Kong, HKAPA, Drama Theatre

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Based on Charles M. Schulz iconic comic strip about Snoopy and the “Peanuts” gang, this 1967 musical revue created by Clark Gesner and the original company has won a slew of awards over the years, including a successful run on Broadway. This is just a graduate showcase for the School of Drama Bachelor of Fine Arts students, but boy, you’d never know it: it plays like a professional version.

Despite the quintessentially American trappings with Thanksgiving and little league baseball, it is amazing how this musical takes on new meaning in Hong Kong. With a new Cantonese translation (Wong Cho-lam, Li Wing-hong), there are lots of fun updates like a reference to “Baby Shark” instead of “Frère Jacques”. Even accidentally, in Cantonese, Snoopy’s imaginary fight against “The Red Baron” takes on connotations of the fight against a “red” communist regime. But really, the central themes of school-bred anxiety in children, and “Give me a child till he’s seven, and I will show you the man”, are universal.

Though ostensibly a cast of “actors who sing”, as opposed to musical theatre students, the quality of the vocal ensemble, not to mention electrifying choreography (Tony Wong), is already professional standard.

The cartoon, cardboard-cutout set (Siu Jiou) is a huge part of the action, with a row of portholes serving as everything from traffic lights to Charlie Brown’s (Kwong Oon-hin) anxiety, shown through massive eyes shifting left and right. Get a ticket to the next graduate showcase; you might just be seeing the stars of tomorrow.

Follow the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts online.

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TITANIC: THE MUSICAL | Hong Kong, HKAPA Drama Theatre

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“We spent a really, really long time — much longer than any other show before — trying to work out the set design,” explains director Candice Caalsen, who is directing a cast of forty-two adults for the “Face Productions“ performances, and a cast of a hundred children aged 8-18 for the “Face Academy“ performances of this epic musical. “Of course, we didn’t want to make a boat, and then try and sink it. We’ve gone a bit more abstract.”

The five-time Tony award-winning 1997 Broadway musical approaches the historic tragedy of 1912 in a way completely different to the 1997 film. “We want to transport audiences to another era,” Caalsen explains. “It’s a real story, and all the characters are based on the real people who were on the Titanic, so every story you see is real. We definitely want people to go away feeling moved, and remembering such a historic tragedy.”

Both Face Academy and Face Productions rely on a cast of volunteers, but for the adult cast, at least, you can expect to see the lead roles played by trained professionals from all over the world, and all local Hong Kong talent.

There’s no live band (audiences will hear a fully customisable, “conducted” backing track with a bit of live keyboard), but both gigantic casts are going to blow the roof off in the ensemble numbers. Don’t miss the boat!

Book the “Face Academy” performances and the “Face Productions” performances online, playing 11 – 13 October 2019.

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COMPANY | Hong Kong, Sha Tin Town Hall

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Sondheim’s groundbreaking 1970 musical comedy is coming to Hong Kong in a brand new Cantonese translation by Jacob Yu and Wong Ming Lok. The musical revolves around Bobby, a single man who is unable to commit fully to a steady relationship — let alone marriage. The five married couples who are his best friends, and his three girlfriends, all come together in a celebration for Bobby’s 35th birthday.

As well as the main translator, Jacob Yu also directs and produces, and set designs too. Stoa Lau is the Music Director and Sound Designer, with lighting by Ivan Chen and costumes by Shybil Yuen, in addition to choreography by Nikki Ng. The cast includes: Amanda Lee, Peco Chui, Andrew Cheung, Beilosi Fung, Margaret Cheung, Sung Boon Ho, Lan Chun Chun, Tunes Ting, SiuLung Wong, Joanna Ko, Billy Yip, Vivian Chan, Tony Li, Terrence Leung.

The original Broadway production was nominated for a record-setting fourteen Tony Awards, and won Best Musical. Many of the songs have passed into musical theatre legend, including: “Being Alive”; “Side By Side” and “You Could Drive A Person Crazy”. The current gender-flipped production in London’s West End is also nominated for many awards.

Don’t miss the chance to experience this hilarious, punchy musical about love and relationships in Cantonese.

Book online at Urbtix until 24 February 2019. Check out Theatre Space’s Facebook page for more information.

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PARADE | Pleasance Theatre, London

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Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts is renowned as one of London’s leading universities for musical theatre, with many of its graduates moving straight into jobs in the West End. The chance to see a cast of these talented students, in the final year of Mountview’s three-year Musical Theatre BA, is an opportunity not to be missed.

Parade (1998) — with sophisticated, Tony Award-winning music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown — tells the true American story of how in 1913, factory owner Leo Frank was falsely accused of rape and murder, revealing horrific, institutional antisemitism.

The last major London production of Parade was in 2011 at the Southwark Playhouse, so Jason Robert Brown fans are going to be thrilled about the chance to see it again, even in a strictly limited run of just five performances.

Award-winning director Josh Seymour worked at the Donmar Warehouse for many years as assistant and associate director, as well as more recently for the National Theatre and West End. It will be exciting to see his take on this dark, jaw-dropping musical. So come to Islington and join the Parade.

Parade runs at the Pleasance Theatre 7-10 February 2018.

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