Phantom of the Opera in Riyadh review: Lean and intense version of renowned theatre show

The latest production features British-Lebanese actor Nadim Naaman in the title role

The Phantom of the Opera is in Saudi Arabia as part of Riyadh Season. Photo: Broadway Entertainment Group
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An interesting incident occurred during a tumultuous scene in the staging of Broadway Entertainment Group's production of Phantom of the Opera that I saw in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

After the Phantom unceremoniously puts an end to an opera production by spooking the audience, the characters Firmin and Andre, a pair of frazzled theatre proprietors, stroll across the stage to explain that “a technical difficulty” had occurred.

As the set revolves to signal a scene change, a real-life glitch happens when the theatre curtain gets caught in the machinery. A tearing sound rips across The Arena and production halts for a few minutes as the technical crew scurries across the stage with extra cloth and portable sewing machine to make the necessary repairs.

It all felt kind of fitting.

Here we were attending a musical about show business and we saw first hand some of the quick thinking involved to keep a show running.

The deliciously meta-moment aside, there are plenty of scripted moments to enjoy in this staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical, playing as part of Riyadh Season in the Saudi capital until December 5, before coming to Dubai in February.

The region's avid theatre-goers may remember the version Broadway Entertainment Group brought to Dubai Opera in 2019, a lavish take on the staging that was in line with the West End production. The version currently being staged feels like a leaner, more intense take with pace.

The award-winning plotline, of course, is unchanged.

Based on the 1907 classic novel Le Fantome de L'Opera by Gaston Leroux, the story revolves around a French theatre company struggling under the weight of its Phantom; a musical prodigy who lives beneath the theatre.

The Phantom is mesmerised by the house's new vocal talent, Christine, and takes her under his wing, mentoring her on a journey to become a star soprano.

Her resulting success sends the Phantom into a jealous frenzy, and murder and mayhem ensue.

With scenes often juxtaposing between the bright lights and colour of the theatre and the dark and foggy home of the Phantom, the production is compact and fantastically detailed.

The Phantom's lair is full of candelabras, ornate furniture and a majestic organ.

The costumes in the theatre and rehearsal scenes are also worth noting with its mix of the lush regalia worn by the French nobility to the ballgowns, wigs and ballet dress.

The casting of the production is also excellent.

Where the tall and imposing South African actor Jonathan Roxmouth made the Phantom a hulking and marauding presence in the 2019 production, the more slightly built British-Lebanese actor Nadim Naaman zeroes in on the emotional complexity of the character with a superbly tetchy performance.

His Phantom remains firmly on the edge, as he seamlessly careens from tender emotion to frenzied and venting rage within seconds.

British singer and actress Georgia Wilkinson is also solid as Christine, her assured delivery of key songs Think of Me and Angel of Music are met with deserved applause.

The supporting cast performances are a more mixed affair.

Valerie Cutko’s rendering of the theatre concierge Madame Giry didn’t exude enough of the maternal warmth the character required, while Lara Martins had lots of fun in channelling the antics of theatre diva Carlotta Guidicelli.

With the exception of the industry pause caused by the pandemic, Phantom of the Opera has been running since its London debut in 1986.

With its debut staging in Saudi Arabia, this latest version is a worthy continuation of this proud legacy.

Phantom of the Opera is at The Arena in Riyadh Saudi Arabia until December 5. Tickets start from 350 Saudi riyals; Phantom of the Opera will come to Dubai Opera from February 22 to March 10. Tickets start from Dh275;

Updated: November 24, 2023, 6:02 PM