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The Phantom of the Opera makes history in Uganda

A scene from the musical play

A scene from the musical play

It was a royal theatre masquerade affair at the Kampala Serena hotel last Saturday  evening as theatre enthusiasts turned up for the premiere of the in ternational Broadway classic musical stage play, The Phantom of the Opera.

With the dress code of ‘masked glam’, guests of the night did not disappoint as most of them turned up clad in shimmering gowns for the ladies, and suits and ties for the men, with both accompanying their looks with masquerade masks.

The Phantom of the Opera, is an award-winning stage musical by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricists Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, adapted from Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel of the same name. A romantic melodrama, The Phantom of the Opera premiered in London’s West End on October 9, 1986, and began its Broadway run on January 26, 1988.

In 2006, The Phantom of the Opera earned the title of Broadway’s longest-running production. The musical had its African debut in 2011 in South Africa and now 10 years later comes to Uganda with the first-ever full-black cast globally.

It follows a gifted and beautiful young singer at the Paris Opéra, Christine Dadé, who is both haunted and mentored by a secretive music teacher she calls her “Angel of Music”.

In actuality, Christine’s tutor is the titular Phantom, who nurtures a dangerous obsession with his protégé. Hiding his facial scars with an iconic white mask, the brilliant but troubled Phantom skulks beneath the opera house, making his home in an underground cavern.

As the musical progresses, the Phantom’s ominous behaviour intensifies; he manipulates the business of the opera, sabotages Christine’s rivals, kills those who thwart him and eventually threatens the life of Raoul, Christine’s childhood friend, with whom she is falling in love.

In Uganda, the musical has been produced by Karen Hasahya and Della Kalanzi, with Pamella Keryeko serving as the director. The cast of 33 actors is led by Gilbert Byamugisha as the Phantom, Joy Victoria Geria as Christine and Emmanuel Atuhaire as Raoul.

Other cast members include Peace Ayikoru, Ricky Asiimwe, Becky Nantale, Clarissa Nabulime and Laura Kahunde. The actors were supported by a choir and an orchestra.

“For over three decades, The Phantom of the Opera has enthralled audiences worldwide, weaving its spell with mesmerizing music, gripping narrative, and unforgettable characters. This rendition, crafted by local talents in collaboration with a dedicated production team, promises to deliver an experience as enchanting as it is extraordinary. With meticulous attention to detail, we’ve summoned forth the magic of this theatrical gem, spotlighting the artistry of our performers and the genius of the playwrights,” Chris Segawa Nantagya, the executive producer of the musical, said.

After a glamorous red carpet, sipping on Guinness cocktails and an almost two-hour wait, guests settled in a transformed Serena hotel’s Victoria Ballroom to witness the haunting melodies and captivating drama of this iconic musical, and they were not disappointed as the actors brought to life the opulent world of opera with dazzling sets and costumes, choreography, which captivated the audience with its fluidity and dynamic transitions and a two-storey stage which was put together by ATS events.

That, perhaps, was the production’s other huge triumph: pulling off such a production outside of a traditional theatre space. Bravo!

Quite often, the audience laughed, cheered and clapped at the performances on stage and after two hours and 30 minutes including a 20-minute interval, the curtains came down on the musical and the audience gave the cast and crew a standing ovation.

“Tonight has left me speechless. The Phantom of the Opera is a theatrical masterpiece, and to contribute to its legacy with an all-black cast for the first time is beyond words. It’s a milestone evening where we have truly immersed ourselves in our mission to not only collaborate with, but also support the Ugandan creative scene and our art,” an impressed Ronald Tumwizere, Guinness’ brand manager, said.

This is not the first time that Broadway classics like this have been staged in Uganda. In 2022 and 2023, The Merchant of Venice and My Fair Lady, respectively, had their runs in Uganda.

All three plays have been produced by Timeless Arts, a theatre production company. Following its premiere at Kampala Serena hotel, The Phantom of the Opera will now be staged at the National theatre throughout all the weekends of May.

However, beyond the splendour of these performances lies a noble purpose as proceeds from the production will go to Special Olympics Uganda, an organization devoted to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to support their noble mission of providing year-round sports training and establishing a national sports facility.

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