Spectacular, stunning and must be seen

By Riverine Herald

SOMETHING incredibly special happened in Echuca on Monday night.

But in barely 48 hours that will have completed its transformation into something incredibly spectacular.

Something unparalleled in 43 rich years of musical theatre in the twin towns.

Because at 7.30pm on Friday the curtain will rise on Echuca-Moama Theatre Company’s production of Phantom of the Opera.

And it is truly stunning.

The cast co-directors Mark Thomson and John Wright have pulled together from around the state is surely the best to have trod the boards at the Paramount, or any other venue in the company’s proud history.

It all went on show to an invitation-only audience on Monday as the cast staged its final full dress rehearsal before Friday’s opening night.

Under the eagle eyes of Thomson/Wright and the engine room of musical director Will Kendrew, choreographer Colleen DeWinne and vocal coaches Kellie Wright and Chris McDonald the final bugs were identified, isolated and ironed out.

And none of them could detract from the explosion of talent on stage.

In musical theatre acting is not necessarily a priority; even the odd stumble can be forgiven if the singing is good.

But not this Phantom; not this cast.

Every one of the leads injects astonishing passion into extraordinary performances.

EMTC regular Tamara Cadd doesn’t play the camped up Carlotta, the opera’s diva.

Cadd is Carlotta.

Her soaring voice dominates every time she appears on stage; her grasp of the character (almost a Gilbert and Sullivanesque interpretation) demands your total attention.

She is so good you wonder what the directors were thinking by not casting her as Christine Daaé.

Until they share their inspiration with the audience when Sophie Miller, a mere slip of a girl, enters centre stage and launches into Think of Me, one of this iconic show’s signature tunes.

The purity of her voice, its power to override the volume of the music (which the directors are probably dialling back as final touches are added) slices through everything and holds you spellbound.

Think of Me is shared with Leigh Hindle’s Phantom and Luke Westley’s Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny.

Hindle is remarkable, his performance beyond reproach and his ability to lace his singing with breathlessness, with desire and, at the dénouement, with defeat, will be a cornerstone of the show’s success.

The only tweak the directors would be considering is how to better light Julie Raverty’s stunning facial makeup.

Westley is the surprise packet of the performance. Making his EMTC debut he is utterly sensational as Christine’s love interest.

You could imagine Thomson/Wright thinking they had died and gone to heaven when he turned up for the auditions, and they must have bolted the door shut for fear he would get away.

Their love triangle performances are as emotionally draining as exhilirating just as the major numbers, including The Phantom of the Opera, Music of the Night and Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again — enhance this tour de force.

Oman and Deakin are a consistent thread through the show and in no way intimidated by the quality of the cast around them.

Sean O’Brien as Ubaldo Piangi is a brilliant foil for Carlotta’s tantrums and Ivy Jensen, another EMTC high achiever, delivers as the dark and brooding Madame Giry, who holds the Phantom’s secret.

While the stars do shine they also stand on the shoulders of the ensemble, the production team and legions of helpers who have all been involved – some for almost two years – in bringing one of the stage’s most famous, and longest-running shows, to Echuca-Moama.

And they deliver subtle touches that may pass unnoticed, such as the ballet dancers en pointe, but which add so much to the depth of the performance.

Just occasionally, no, only rarely, the stars in the heavens align with the stars on stage – and create magic.

Look skyward on Friday night and keep your eyes fixed on the celestial until the curtain finally falls on June 9 because what is about to take place on the Paramount stage may not come around again for a long time.

Like the alchemists of old, Thomson and Wright have created a golden moment in time, and as the secrets of those wizards have been lost in the mists of time, only time itself will tell if this formula can ever be replicated.