It can be a thankless task for a performer, to take on a leading role in a theatre show, only for it to pass by unnoticed by press and media outlets because they are not the lead performer. These hard working performers deserve to be recognised and so continuing my 2017 promise of reviewing as many understudies/alternates as I can, I was delighted to go and see the Alternate Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, Amy Manford.
The Phantom of the Opera is one of the worlds longest running musicals, opening in London in 1986 and still going strong today. Based on the novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, it is inspired by real events that happened at the Paris Opera in the early nineteenth century.
The Phantom of the Opera haunts an old Paris theatre and lives in a lair underneath the building. So long as the theatre owners pay him what he asks each month and obeys any orders he gives, then all will be fine. But when new owners take over, they are less than enthusiastic about pandering to the Phantom’s demands and things start to go wrong. In the meantime, the Phantom has taken a young performer, Christine, under his wing and tutors her in singing. He becomes obsessed with her and wants them to be together, leaving her in a love triangle and having to make a very big decision.
When I review new cast members in long running shows, it can be difficult to see how the performers differ from each other (as they are often all directed to perform the role exactly the same way). So I watch the performance with one question in my mind “what does this performer bring to the role that I haven’t seen before?” Sometimes it is youthfulness, sometimes vulnerability but for Amy Manford the word that kept coming to mind was whilst watching her performance was ‘hope’. Christine’s hope for love, her hope for freedom, for safety, for making people happy. On the flip slide to hope is hopelessness. Christine is a hopeless romantic and hopeless in love.
Towards the end of act one, just before the song All I Ask Of You, Christine sings “yet in his eyes, all the sadness of the world, those pleading eyes, that both threaten and adore” and that perfectly encapsulates how I saw Amy’s portrayal of Christine. A beautiful and interesting take on the character.
Australian performer Amy Manford sings beautifully and has great chemistry alongside her (also Australian) co-star Ben Lewis. Go check her out in The Phantom of the Opera on Monday’s and Fridays when she plays the role of Christine.
Reviewed by West End Wilma