I don’t know where to start!
The design is different. The Bjørnson design consists of layers of drapes towards a black background, with only one or two highly detailed, solid set pieces standing out (elephant in Hannibal, organ and mirror in the Phantom’s lair, staircase in Masquerade, table in the office etc). It means your mind fills out the blank, so the set is actually perceived different for most viewers. The restaged tour went for realism. It’s wallpapers, furnitures, carpets, frames, accessories. The main set is a turnable “drum” where everything is placed inside, and the sides are bare. Example: managers office:
The costumes are also in large different. Or, they were. In the UK leg of the tour they had changed all Masquerade costumes, the Sylvan Glades, most of the Manager outfits, a lot of the Don Juan Triumphant ones etc. Sometimes changes done to the existing costumes, but just as often making brand new costumes which was not Maria B’s design. And sometimes when they kept the original design, they made what looked like cheap knockoffs. I never understood the logic behind the costume choices for the tour. Some of the worst costumes has been corrected in the US leg of the tour - the Sylvan Glades went back to mint green costumes after the horrid white sheets they wore in the UK, Christine’s wedding dress now has decorations again etc. But I still think the tour - costume wise - is a far cry from the original version.
Red Death is bad to the point where I still laugh out loud when seeing it. And it doesn’t help that he just wanders in from the back.
The staging is different. The choreography is by Scott Ambler and overseen by Matthew Bourne. More artistic, more pas-de-deuxs in the mock operas. They’ve kept Gillian Lynne’s idea of recreating Degas moments here and there, however.
A main difference between the original and the restaged tour is that the original always feature the Phantom as elevated, above others. From looming over Christine in the mirror scene to singing on the Golden Angel in his curse to descending from the grand staircase in Masquerade to stare down at the young lovers in the Mausoleum scene - he’s always superior. Only in his lair do you see him at the same level as the others. The tour does the opposite, they always keep the Phantom at the level of the others, all through the show.
Direction wise, Laurence Connor has been very good with creating an atmosphere and featuring the backstage life of the opera. Strong focus on gritty realism. Good Carlotta moments too, the role has been a bit extended in comments and rants. Alas less good with portraying the love triangle. I never felt there were any connection between the Phantom and Christine, and Raoul just goes around being constantly pissed. Christine seems weaker in this version, and frankly I don’t see why she should choose either of the tyrannic men. It didn’t help that the UK leg of the tour featured Christine with a constant headache, but this seems to have been toned down in the US. However, the current Phantom is WAY more violent, to the point where I wonder what their view on women is.
The Hal Prince directing works a lot more with creating a feeling of the Phantom being ever-present, of him having ghostly qualities. If he’s not on stage, people refer to him, look out for him, hear his voice, feel his presence. I also think Christine is a stronger character in Prince’ version, and Raoul an actual prince charming. All in all, a better love triangle where you most likely mourn Christine’s choice, but also understands it.
The effects aren’t bad! The UK leg of the tour had a seriously underwhelming chandelier. It doesn’t rise from stage, but hangs in place, covered in drapes - think RAH concert. For the crash, it shook a bit, and sprayed “glass” (plastic). In the US leg of the tour they’ve taken it up several notches, so it’s now free falling and still spraying glass. They also have a bit of the set ceiling come loose. Awesome effect overall. Alas, it looks like a 1980s chandelier more than an 1880s chandelier.
They also open with the Auction scene being covered in cobweb, which looks wonderfully moody. But it’s just raised when the show starts, so there’s no real effect to it other than set the mood.
Design wise, both the original and the restaged tour has picked a LOT from Palais Garnier, the Parisian opera. But they’ve picked different sources. A strange thing is that the tour seems to have borrowed quite a few details from the Hungarian non-replica version.
It’s strange though. The production has a lot of cool Palais Garnier details. Yet when it comes to the chandelier, it doesn’t look like the Garnier one at all. Very mysterious.
Music and lyrics has hardly been changed at all, and casts have been solid (though I personally prefer the UK casts).
To conclude: the restaged tour went for a grittier and more realistic approach, while the original has more focus on the romance and the mystery. The tour has some rather cool effects and visuals, but when they say they’re using Maria Bjørnson’s original costume design they’re lying so hard. The show more or less sounds the same as before. So in my book, definitely something I’d see if I had the chance, but a hit-and-miss affaire where they fail in the most crucial aspect - the love triangle.
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