30 January 2023

Review: The Phantom of the Opera Companion

Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera Companion book cover

I absolutely love everything about the musical production The Phantom of the Opera: the gothic setting; the music; the operas within an opera and of course the cleverly constructed and often overlapping lyrics are just sublime. Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera Companion contains the original screenplay and reading it enhanced my already existing appreciation of the musical.
“Some of you may recall the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera: a mystery never fully explained.” Page 62
I recently attended Opera Australia’s production of The Phantom of the Opera at the State Theatre in Melbourne four times and it continues to raise the hair on the back of my neck and give me goosebumps every, single, time.

I've always struggled to describe the sheer majesty of the title song and the "duuuuuun, dun dun dun dun dunnnnnn!" that reverberates into your chest. In this companion edition I'm pleased to have finally found a description from the screenplay that sums it up in just three words:
"The porters whip off the canvas. The auctioneer switches on the chandelier by igniting a huge battery. There is an enormous flash and the thunderous organ overture begins." Page 62
It's the thunderous organ overture which never fails to move me or ignite my senses. Reading the screenplay in full for the first time provided a new angle from which to appreciate Andrew Lloyd Webber's brilliance. The clever word play and poetic rhythm of the lyrics deliver tongue twisters one moment while other times the lines seem to trip off your tongue in sheer delight. Take the following example from Christine. Even if you don't know the circumstances or accompanying tune, the words are lyrical and seem to dance together in a way that makes my brain feel like warm, sticky caramel:
"Twisted every way, what answer can I give? Am I to risk my life, to win the chance to live? Can I betray the man who once inspired my voice? Do I become his prey? Do I have any choice? He kills without a thought, he murders all that's good... I know I can't refuse, and yet, I wish I could. Oh God - if I agree, what horrors wait for me in this - the Phantom's Opera...?" Page 125
I'm well aware that my enjoyment of this book is inexplicably connected to my love of the opera itself, but it's as though my mind enjoys picking over the lyrics and melodies and revisiting their uniqueness over and over. It then seeks to deliver snippets to me throughout the day in 100 little ear worms and sudden and tuneful outbursts without provocation. Perhaps the Angel of Music haunts me just as it does Christine...

Often the characters' lines will overlap and I was able to read all of the lyrics in the screenplay for the first time here. Sung and read together, they create a swirling sphere of linguistic pleasure that seems to envelope my brain in a sweet fog of words and music that ignites my soul and won't let go.

The musical is multi layered (like the movie Inception) with plays within the play and even makes fun of industry cliches and stereotypes in the caricature of Carlotta and the swooning lovesick and overly protective leading man Raol. There's also a clear sense of humour throughout, one of my favourites being "and what is it that I've meant to have wrote, written?" The stage production in Melbourne was exquisite and the scenery was mesmerisingly clever with performers and the set continuously transforming and defying any attempt to understand how it all works. The interactions between Andre and Firmin are absolute highlights for me, and I loved reading their 'notes sequence'.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera Companion is a book I'll never part with and I'm so glad I now have my own ready reference to all of the lyrics. The lyric I'm trying to learn by heart at the moment is the following from Masquerade:
"Flash of mauve ... Splash of puce... Fool and king ... Ghoul and goose ... Green and black ... Queen and priest ... Trace of rouge ... Face of beast ... Faces ........ Eye of gold ... Thigh of blue ... True is false ... Who is who? ... Curl of lip ... Swirl of gown ... Ace of hearts ... Face of Clown." Page 111
Were you able to read it through without stumbling? Are you also a Phantom tragic? I'd love to know. It could be another decade before I have the chance to “close my eyes and let my spirit start to soar” once again, but now that I have the screenplay - in addition to the Original London Cast recording from 1987 - I'll be able to re-visit the Music of the Night any time.

Highly recommended!

My Rating:

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  1. A brilliant review for a brilliant musical. One of my favourites too and I loved reading your thoughts on it 💙💚 I was so sad to hear that they've taken it off Broadway. After Cats it was the longest running show on Broadway 💔 Have you seen/heard the sequel?

    1. Thanks for the kind words Ash, and I don't think this musical will ever truly disappear. Australians certainly aren't going to tire of it anytime soon. But no, I haven't seen or even listened to the sequel. Love Never Dies right? Is it any good?

  2. Phantom is one of my favourite musicals too, I'm glad you got so much out of the companion read.

    1. Thanks Claire, great to share the love with another Phantom fan!

  3. A lovely review, thanks for sharing your thoughts

    1. Thanks Shelleyrae, I was pretty pleased to discover this met the criteria for the Arts category in your Non Fiction Reading Challenge. Definitely a bonus!


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