When I heard that Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Phantom of the Opera was to be staged at the Istana Budaya, I could not contain my joy.
I had watched and thoroughly enjoyed Ola Bola staged by the same company that successfully put on Puteri Gunung Ledang. Now this production of Phantom was part of the travelling troupe that had staged the same show in Manila and then Singapore. How lucky we are that we have Istana Budaya as, without such a venue, Phantom perhaps would not have landed on our shores.
The show opened grandly to flashing lights and the thundering sounds of the organ. A huge chandelier then appeared - setting the stage for the Opera House in 1911 in Paris, where an auction was held to clear the abandoned theatre's vaults.
At its core, The Phantom of the Opera is a love story featuring three protagonists pitting a disfigured musical genius, 'The Phantom' (Jonathan Roxmouth), a talented young soprano, Christine Daaé (Meghan Picerno) and Christine's childhood friend, Raoul de Chagny (Matt Leisy).
The Phantom is obsessed with Christine, whom he trains musically but he is unaware of her love for Raoul - which soon sets the scene for a dramatic turn of events.
The set design is neo-gothic opulent and the beguiling costume dresses, particularly in the Masquerade scene in act II is absolutely stunning, colourful and lends a majestic feel to it.
In the audience, all I wanted was to immerse myself in the story and get lost in the soaring melodies of the show's celebrated songs- unfortunately, the experience was marred by a when a group in the audience who lacked basic theatre etiquette.
During a pivotal scene where Phantom wooed Christine on a boat, instead of being regaled to the tune of 'The Phantom Of The Opera' by the Phantom, I heard "Eh, do you have candies?" instead.
At this point, Christine was about to sing her part- I was really looking forward to hearing Picerno's coloratura soprano voice - but once again, we were rudely disturbed.
The same ignorant group in the audience started chatting incessantly, and worse, munching on their food noisily.
It was immensely frustrating. This went on for the entire first act. After the intermission, the same group resumed their antics until one person in the audience gave them a loud "Shh!!!".
Malaysians are very lucky to have such a prestigious musical take the stage at Istana Budaya but perhaps it is time to enforce proper etiquette among local theatre-goers.
Here are simple ones: Turn off your cell phone. Don't eat. Don't chat (a quick whisper is fine). Do not kick the chair in front of you. Do not fall asleep, and please, don't sing along.
Overall, the show was phenomenal, and I would watch it again, and again.
*Below is an account given by AWANI intern, Muhammad Azzam Qhaireel Anwar who is pursuing a Politics, Philosophy and Economics Degree at Kings College London, describing his maiden trip to the Malaysian theatre.
As a student studying at Kings College in the Strand in the heart of London, I would often wander taking in the sights and sounds of London’s theatreland in the West End. Being on a tight student budget, there were other expenses to take care of that’s more pressing than paying 20 pounds or more to catch the never-ending run of Mousetrap or Les Miserable.
As luck would have it, Phantom of The Opera has landed in Malaysian shores and I got the chance to `work’ and `play’ this time around covering the show as part of my assignment.
Although I was given a small role interviewing Meghan Picerno when she came to the Astro AWANI studios the afternoon prior to a media call on Tuesday, I managed to get a Media pass to attend the maiden performance on the same evening.
A stunning presentation of music, colour and talent, the Phantom of the Opera is surely a spectacle not to be missed while it is on its three-week run here in Malaysia.
The Istana Budaya has transformed into various locations in 1911 Paris where local and international talents alike combined forces to manifest Gaston Leroux celebrated story onto the stage.
I particularly appreciated the colours. Each scene was crafted so beautifully, with all manner of materials and props to bring the story to life.
It was magical. A particular scene, Masquerade, saw to the entire stage being filled with all manner of colourful costumes. A staircase extended from the bottom of the stage to the ceiling, with characters in bright purple, yellow, red, orange green dresses jumping into the scene.
I was blown away. It was as if somebody had opened a window in a dark room where one had only known night, to the sight of a garden of dandelions. The person on my left literally gasped like a little girl, and I was sure many had the same reaction. It reminds you for a bit of what it's like to be in a world of make-believe, to see the world through the eyes of a child, and to see magic.
The music was also stunning. An orchestra of local and international instrumentalists are to be credited for the grand auditory ambience, conducted by David Andrews Rogers.
I also appreciated the play’s intimate exploration of the Phantom and his emotions. Gone is the notion of good versus evil and the dichotomy between the villain and the hero.
What we see is emotion. There is no clear antagonist (perhaps human greed) as the Phantom is shown to be only human. Prone to feelings of jealousy along with love, and driven to a manifestation of love that he does not understand due to a past of being abused by those around him.
Hiding his face from the world, his emotions seem only to be seen by Christine, who is open enough to accept him and is a tribute to the character-changing power of love. Evil is also not binary. The play explores the pain and trauma of the antagonist and how this drives his actions.
Actress Megan Picerno who plays Christine could not have said it better. “(He) was also not taught how to love. Neither of them knows what love is”.
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