If battling traffic into the Sydney CBD is not your idea of pre-show entertainment, breathe easy: the Blue Mountains has talent that seriously rivals the city theatres. Finally back at home on their new Springwood stage, the Blue Mountains Musical Society opened their production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom Of The Opera to a near sold-out crowd last Saturday, and delivered a performance that earned them a standing ovation.
Breathing new life into the Broadway staple, director Virginia Fortunat presents a production significantly influenced by the original Gaston Leroux novel. It is a creative and savvy move that allows its audience to view the well-loved characters through a slightly different lens. The hysteria is heightened, but never farcical, and the show takes on a story-book feel with atmospheric artwork from set designer Linda Aubrecht. Flavoured with Leroux's classic melodrama, Fortunat's authentic approach cleverly accommodates both set and budget limits, while retaining the full impact of Webber's powerful musical score.
While the simple props may remind us that we're watching community theatre, the principal cast easily makes us forget again. Matthew Herne completely inhabits the tortured Phantom, delivering towering threats and spine-tingling high notes with formidable vocal prowess. Herne's performance anchors the show, his enthralling deliveries rivalled only by those of the Phantom's love-interest, Christine (Sarah Namdar). Namdar plays Leroux's Christine to the letter; don't expect the fragile, ethereal creature of more traditional performances, instead revel in her childish, hysterical naivete, coupled with an appropriately superb voice. Nicole Giezekamp-Bakija inspires laughter and awe with her comic acting and vocal acrobatics as the opera diva Carlotta; while Touraj Vaziri plays a protective, tender Raoul. Also worthy of mention is the consistently strong ensemble cast, who - under the expert ear of musical director Jem Harding, and the guidance of choreographer Amber Hook - support the leads with a multitude of challenging harmonies and delightful dance numbers.
Inventive, confident and polished, BMMS' Phantom showcases professional-calibre talent that is sure to thrill every audience. No Sydney road-rage involved.
Phantom Of The Opera runs at the Blue Mountains Theatre, Springwood, until October 25. To purchase tickets go to http://www.bmms.org.au/phantom-of-the-opera.