When we watch an iconic musical show such as ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ in Istana Budaya, what we see is only the tip of the iceberg.
It took 18 shipping containers, carrying a total weight of 143,140 tons of equipment and scenery from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to set up the show that runs for three weeks.
With over 118 talented casts and crews who made the show came alive in Istana Budaya, we credit the hard work of The Really Useful Group (a company set up by Andrew Lloyd Webber) and Base Entertainment Asia who made it possible for us to have the show here, at the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
The effort to bring the biggest and longest-running musical to our shores was definitely not a ‘walk in the park’ and it was only possible after Istana Budaya underwent a major renovation to support the staging of the show.
"We hadn’t been able to fit the touring set in Istana Budaya. So when it was decided that we were going to rebuild a touring set, the challenge is to make it fit."
"Earlier, we hadn’t been able to fit the touring set in Istana Budaya. So when it was decided that we were going to rebuild a touring set, the challenge is to make it fit.
“There’s a number of reasons why it was challenging; the Phantom of the Opera is the biggest musical show- sometimes it is the weight of the chandelier or just the sheer dimensions of the set and not being flexible.
“We had to re-engineer the set, at the same time we make sure it doesn’t differ from the original aesthetics of the show as it would if you were watching the show on Broadway or in the West End,” says Serin Kasif, Vice President of Production from The Really Useful Group.
The dazzling replica of the Paris Opera House chandelier is three metres wide and weighs 308kg.
“About 2,230 metres of fabrics are used for the drapes, 900 of them specially dyed. The tasselled fringes measure 226 metres. They are made up of 250 kg of dyed wool interwoven with 5,000 wooden beads imported from India. Each one is handmade and combed through with an Afro comb.
Beyond feasting our eyes on colourful costumes and beguiling dresses, elaborate sets and smooth scene changes, there is another ‘show’ happening backstage.
"The number of people and departments coming together to bring the show to life is astounding."
“Each performance has 230 costumes, 82 automated cues, 22 scene changes, 201 candles and 29 gas lights.
“The show uses 44 units of 30kg bottles (or 1,320kgs) of liquid CO2 for low fog and mausoleum bursts eight shows per week; four low fog machines, two hazers and four mini hazers on the travelator.
The production takes under 100 hours to set up with a total of 6,496 crew man-hours.
"One of the fascinating things about live theatre is how production is incredibly detailed. The number of people and departments coming together to bring the show to life is astounding.
“Everyone - from the electrical department, the structural engineering, the choreographers, dressers, dry cleaners - it’s a huge collaboration. Everyone needs to be 150 percent committed, you can’t let one section of fall apart because as soon as that happens, it compromises the entire show.
“It really does take a village to put on a show,” says Serin with a laugh.
According to Head of Base Entertainment Malaysia Datuk Jared Lim the process of bringing The Phantom of the Opera to Malaysia has taken three to four years of discussions and numerous attempts to resolve technical issues, as well as finding out if the Malaysian market is ready for it.
“We see these amazing musicals come to theatres in Singapore and we are often asked: ‘When can you bring it to Malaysia?’. Now, I think Malaysia deserves this. We are ready for something new, something grand.
“If you look at the history of tickets being sold in Malaysia, it doesn’t give you much confidence. But having said that, The Phantom of the Opera is the most successful show in the world. We told ourselves: ‘We want to ignite (the passion) and be a catalyst for the arts. And if there was one show that can do that, it’s definitely The Phantom of the Opera.
"We are often asked: ‘When can you bring it to Malaysia?’. Now, I think Malaysia deserves this. We are ready for something new, something grand."
“We were willing to take that commercial risk,” says Lim.
Prior to the show's opening, the tickets priced between RM200 up to RM684 sold like hotcakes. Chief Executive Officer of Base Entertainment Asia Chantal Prudhomme says: “We made sure that we’ve got different ticket prices available for everyone”
“It’s a big show. It’s not cheap to bring these productions. But we have to make it work - it is an art to deal with the scaling of the house. For sure, you’ll have your expensive tickets and the less expensive ones too.
“We believe we’ve been able to price the tickets affordably. At the end of the day, we want as many people across all ages and demographics to come and see the Phantom of the Opera,” she says.
The Phantom of the Opera will end its Malaysia run on 7 July, but the show is not over yet for Base Entertainment as they are in preparation to bring the next big show: Cats, The Musical.
The last time ‘Cats’ was performed in Kuala Lumpur was in 2002. It is another Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation and scheduled to be staged in Istana Budaya in January next year.
Believe it or not, tickets are already now on sale, priced from RM254, available on ticketcharge.com