City Wonders Phantom of the Opera VIP Backstage Tour: The Review

Softly, deftly, music shall surround you
feel it, hear it, closing in around you
Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind
In this darkness which you know you cannot fight
The darkness of the music of the night

Click for the musical accompaniment…

A theatre tour up Shaftesbury Avenue? Followed by a backstage tour of Her Majesty’s Theatre, dinner and the best seats in the house at Phantom of the Opera? Yes puh-lease!

That was my Friday, one rainy day in May.

We met the City Wonders team outside Her Majesty’s Theatre on Haymarket in my beloved London. After a friendly chat about all the essentials – where we were from, where we lived, y’know, the usual – we went on a tour of Shaftesbury Avenue. Also known as ‘Theatre Land’.

phantom-of-the-opera

‘We’ were me, my mum, the City Wonders tour guide Kieran, and four 50+ women from Switzerland on a girlie weekend. We were a good team.

Before we set off we were given headphone sets so we could hear Kieran as he walked and talked through the busy London people traffic. In this world of smart phones, robots and space travel it’s a touch sad that I was amazed by these contraptions, but I was. A little part of me hoped I wouldn’t bump into anyone I knew with the blue headset on, yet another part, maybe smaller, hoped I would so I could show off about what I was doing.

Theatre Walking Tour

We walked up Haymarket, across Piccadilly and up to Shaftesbury Avenue. We learned about the famous theatre cat Beerbohm who’s eventual death was so upsetting for the community it took over The Stage’s front page, also about the twin buildings concept where now you can see how destructive ‘forward thinking’ can be to architecture. Just take a look at the Gieguld Theatre compared to the neighbouring and attached Queen’s Theatre to see what I mean. Kieran told us that apparently Dame Judi Dench was performing at the Gieguld, but wanted to say she’d been in Les Miserables at the Queens, so after her show she made her way through to the Queens Thetare, sang in the chorus, and then was able to sign her name on the famous cast wall. No one even noticed until she admitted it a few years later.

VIP Phantom of the Opera

The tour carried on through Leicester Square and back past Sir Isaac Newton’s house until we got back to Her Majesty’s Theatre – apparently the only one in London with a changeable name. Once ‘Her Majesty’ pops it and Prince Charles takes over it’ll be known as His Majesty’s Theatre.

The whole walk was about an hour of stopping and starting so anyone who has issues walking, like my dear mother and her dodgy knee, should bear that in mind. Mum did well though and as long as you kept her entertained with a tale or two, she was fine.

Backstage Theatre Tour

After 30 minutes of waiting outside the theatre in the rain for the tour to start – after all it’s a live theatre whose priority is to be ready for the show – we were given permission to enter and begin.

Stage door at Her Majesty's Theatre

Ten steps in the door and I was on a West End stage. Another one of my many life goals as a young vickyflipflop, done. Kind of.

We were shown around the stage from the Prompt corner where they had little screens set up so you could see the conductor and communicate with the control box, to the famous remote control boat. I won’t give too much away, but they had some funny stories to tell about Micheal Crawford, his time as the Phantom, and that boat.

Unfortunately everything in the show is copyrighted, so I couldn’t take any photos.

One of the most fascinating things about the tour was how small the actual theatre was. Everything had to be tied up on top of each other in order to fit in the wings. At one point in the show they have this huge staircase, it all has to go back and the tonnes of steel tied up within two minutes, in silence. The props technicians have to train for years to be allowed to work on Phantom of the Opera, and they all have two understudies because it’s such a vital, dangerous and complicated job.

We were shown the back room where the legendary comedian Tommy Cooper eventually died after collapsing on stage mid-performance. Now the room is used as a dressing room and his ghost is said to stalk the corridors.

We made our way up to the top floor, again, not a good one for anyone with mobility issues but you can distract yourself by clocking all the cast getting ready and going by. I was determined to remember their faces later on when I saw them on stage.

Up at the top we saw the inner mechanisms of the stage, how they dropped the screens down and delivered the props to the technicians below ready to receive them. Her Majesty’s Theatre is a Grade II Listed building, so they’re not allowed to make any changes to the theatre as it is. This includes the pillars that disrupt the view of the cheap seats, and the stage mechanisms below. They actually had to wind a stick backstage to a certain countdown number to get the candelabras to wind back in on stage. Pretty funny when you bear in mind today’s technology.

Apparently in the olden days the Navy boys would come up on land from the Thames to work the theatres. All the theatre machinery processes and contraptions had been developed to be similar to those on a boat.

Dinner time at Grace

The hour-long backstage tour of Phantom of the Opera was over too soon.

The six of us were scooted up to Grace Bar in Piccadilly. It seemed like a strange choice and as we passed all the fag ash lils outside and the chavvy clubbers by the bar I worried for my 50+ companions.

The seven of us were ushered to a back room though and sat around to enjoy our two-course set menu. I chose the asparagus and goat’s cheese tart followed by steak; it was one of those just-enough portions. I was actually glad it wasn’t more as I didn’t want to fall asleep in the theatre – I was felling pretty knackered. I skipped the wine, but it was a choice for the usual London prices on top. Staff were friendly, prices were good and we had a good group sat around that table together.

Phantom of the Opera: The show

7:30pm, and the show was due to start. We’d made it ten minutes early to get to the front row of the Royal Circle – a perfect view with a comfortable bar to lean on. It was the best seat I’d ever had in a theatre.

Phantom-of-the-opera-theatre

Her Majesty’s Theatre is beautiful and can house up to 1,216 people a night.

The show was amazing – everything I’d wanted from a show I’d wanted to see for so many years. The singing was incredible and being so close to the front meant I was totally wrapped up in the music and the story. The time went so quickly and it was genuinely mind blowing to see how the basic stage and set I’d seen just a few hours earlier made the whole story come to life.

The VIP Phantom of the Opera Experience

Having the whole backstage tour experience gave so much more depth to the day, and a much better understanding of the cast and show.

The tour with City Wonders currently costs £105, normal price £150.If I look now I can see Friday night seats in a month’s time in the Royal Circle are £75, and that’s not even the front row. And a two-course set dinner at Grace is £20. So the actual Shaftesbury Avenue tour and the backstage tour cost £10 – WOW, well worth it!

Floor at Phantom of the Opera

I was a guest of City Wonders but I’d absolutely, definitely recommend the tour. So would my mum, although she wanted me to make it clear that anyone with mobility issues should be aware of the walking and the theatre stairs.

Even though I haven’t really been for years, I used to love the theatre and getting to stand on stage and see the theatre as the cast do was an incredible experience, and one you would’ve thought money can’t buy. But apparently it can.

The VIP Phantom of the Opera tour would make for a great treat for anyone important in your life, including you. Give it a go!

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2 Comments

  1. by Helen on June 14, 2014  8:36 am Reply

    This is all time favourite show and I recently saw it in London. It exceeded all my expectations and was fantastic. I am very jealous of your backstage tour!

  2. by Brenna on June 17, 2014  9:19 am Reply

    Oh yay! Kasha and I are doing this on Friday, I can't wait!

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