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Theatre Review: The Phantom of the Opera (Rotorua)

It is not often I get the chance to see theatre outside of Auckland, so a trip south this weekend to see Rotorua Musical Theatre’s production of The Phantom of the Opera was a treat. I attended the matinee of what was the final day of its run at the Sir Howard Morrison Centre in the sulphur city. 

The centre has undergone a multimillion dollar refurbishment recently and looks incredibly good. In the process the Sir Owen Glen theatre has been polished up nicely while still retaining a certain flair and atmosphere from its original design, this lends itself perfectly to the theatricality of Phantom. 

You probably know the story. Christine (Karla Lyford) is a beautiful young singer who is an orphan and very innocent. She is a dancer at the theatre, and is being trained to sing by a mysterious entity she calls the Angel of Music. He of course is the eponymous Phantom (Craig Davson), a disfigured man who has suffered much and is now a recluse who creates music in the bowels of the theatre and is obsessively in love with Christine.

It wouldn’t be an operatic musical without a love triangle, and the third person in the dynamic is the handsome Raoul (Tamati Cassidy), a childhood friend of Christine who reacquaints with her, and professes his love.

Naturally this annoys the Phantom, and despite the theatre now belonging to new owners, he clearly has ownership and boundary issues and so goes on a rampage of mayhem and murder to get his own opera performed and to get rid of Raoul so that Christine will be his bride. 

There is a reason that The Phantom of the Opera is one of the most successful and beloved musicals of all time. It is wildly entertaining with wonderful and unforgettable music, it is filled with strong characters, and it has exquisite design elements. In this incarnation of it, Rotorua Musical Theatre proved to be excellent custodians of the show’s heritage. 

From the musicianship through to set design, costuming and of course singing, everything worked in this production. There were some minor wobbles at times, but overall, this was one very slick production.

Of course with a show of this scale and being so well known, it is essential that the on-stage performances be top rate and this was certainly the case. 

Davson simply lived and breathed the Phantom and managed to create a multidimensional character who was at times chilling and yet, in other moments, so tender and vulnerable one felt empathy for him. 

Equally strong was Lyford’s Christine with her angelic voice and a very emotive and vulnerable persona. Whether she was feeling love or fear, we felt it. 

The surprise of the night for me was Tamati Cassidy as Raoul. Here is a young man with incredible stage presence. He would often stand observant and calm, waiting his time, then suddenly his voice would ring out so beautifully. The playbill states he is to leave Rotorua and join the Navy. I hope, despite this career change, that we see and hear more from this remarkable performer in the future. 

Rotorua Musical Theatre managed to deliver a wonderful version of The Phantom of the Opera and I think I will return to the city to see more of what they have on offer. 

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