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Arts in Malaysia: The Phantom of the Opera at Istana Budaya, presented by BASE Entertainment Asia

KUALA LUMPUR – It makes complete sense for a musical on tour to schedule the next closest country as its next stop. In the case of The Phantom of the Opera, that country would be Malaysia, following its recent run in Singapore. But what is perhaps so significant about this particular stop is that Malaysia hasn’t seen a musical of this scale tour to it for years, if not decades, making The Phantom of the Opera a triumphant first step for more great things to come.

In many ways, the Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur feels perfectly crafted for the West End/Broadway musical, with multiple renovation works in the last few years immensely improving it and setting it up for greater productions, such as how much of the theatre is covered in wood, allowing for better, more natural sound quality and resonance. Already, after the initial auction scene, there is a sense of grandeur as the chandelier rises up to the ceiling, with the entire theatre of Malaysians gasping in wonder, almost as if in disbelief that such a musical is finally happening before their very eyes.

The Phantom of the Opera needs little introduction, as one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest musicals, and often hailed as one of the greatest musicals of all time, with some of musical theatre’s most iconic numbers. Set in an opera house, the musical follows the young Christine (Meghan Picerno) as she rises from ensemble member to prima donna, with the help of the venue’s mysterious resident Phantom (Jonathan Roxmouth). Things get messy when the handsome Raoul (Matt Leisy) falls for her, incurring the wrath and jealousy of the Phantom, as he steals her away to his secret underground lair.   

While it is the same production as the one we watched in Singapore, the intimacy and set-up of the venue somehow makes this run of The Phantom of the Opera that much more powerful and affecting. When haughty diva Carlotta appears in a magnificent, show-stopping 15kg dress, it is more evident that she is a spectacle and we marvel at how this actress is able to accomplish this physical feat night after night. Madame Giry’s imposing figure it better represented on this smaller stage, with a commanding aura one cannot help but be impressed by. Within this space, every stage whisper can be heard, every resonant sound, and this level of theatrical world-building only adds to the immersive atmosphere created.

For this production, even the infamous chandelier scene feels better dramatised due to the more confined space, with a real sense of fear and terror expressed by first time viewers. Even in the already amazing rooftop scene, the giant stone statues evoke a stronger sense of the gothic, elevating the already impressive scenic design higher still, while each and every one of the Phantom’s visual trickery and theatrical magic go off like clockwork, absolutely smooth and still wowing even after repeated viewings.

Considering it has been over 20 years since a musical of this scale has arrived in Malaysia, it’s no surprise that the audience during gala night were hungry for it, taking in each and every scene, gasping with every reveal, and languishing in the emotions of each number. Audiences were clearly here tonight to experience the beauty of theatre, and The Phantom of the Opera was a resounding success thanks to the production team’s efforts, along with Base Entertainment Asia and the PR group who handled marketing and communications for the show.

Much like Christine’s rise in the opera scene, so has the Istana Budaya in stature as it welcomes such a magnificent production onto its stage. Certainly, this is a good omen of even better things to come, setting a strong precedent for yet another Andrew Lloyd Webber classic that will be making its way to Kuala Lumpur very soon, Cats, next year. But for now, if you happen to be in Kuala Lumpur, don’t miss the chance to catch The Phantom of the Opera, making full use of the Istana Budaya to present the musical triumph in all its dark glory.

Photo Credit: The Phantom of the Opera World Tour

Performance attended 18/6/19

The Phantom of the Opera plays from 15th June to 7th July 2019 at the Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur. Tickets available here

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