Phantom of the Opera has just been born anew in a spectacular new production currently touring the UK. Unlike many tours which are sometimes pale reflections of the original, this production matches and even surpasses its long running West End source. The touring Phantom features a new set design by Paul Brown (a disciple of original designer Maria Bjornson), which reveals far more of the backstage life of the Opera House and brings a new dimension to the piece with an even clearer focus on the story. The production is overseen by ballet maestro Matthew Bourne and producer Cameron Mackintosh, with inventive choreography by Bourne’s regular director and performer Scott Ambler which brings the opera and ballet setting into a whole new light. And the director is Laurence Connor, who has completely reinvented two other West End hits, Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, for amazingly fresh and vibrant UK tours in the past few years. This is truly a dream team as this Phantom is not only visually stunning but tremendously moving.

Phantom is of course set at the Paris Opera House, an amazingly opulent and stunning building, during the late nineteenth century. When the building is purchased by Monsieur’s Andre (musical regular Simon Green) and Firmin (Andy Hockley), they quickly realise that there is an uninvited tenant in the building, and when the Phantom sees young protégé Christine Daaé appearing in a minor part in an opera there, his obsession with her leads to all sorts of occurrences, both on stage and off. In this production as never before, the audience see the ‘show within a show’ – both in rehearsal and in production – from both the Corps de Ballet (whose work is stunning throughout) and the various operas such as Hannibal and Il Muto (during the latter, Angela M Caesar's tempestuous Carlotta – a true opera star as she struts around the stage – is literally silenced by the Phantom's trickery). We also get further glimpses ‘behind the scenes’ at the Opera House, with the 'Notes/Prima Donna' number hilariously staged in the Managers’ Office.

There’s a clear distinction between these elements and the love story too, with the love triangle between the Phantom, Christine and her young lover Raoul the emotional centre of the story. Earl Carpenter's Phantom is a man truly on the edge, who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Carpenter sings the role with a rich timbre to his voice and plays him with an intensity that elicits both fear and sympathy from the audience at different times. Katie Hall as Christine Daaé really is that young protégé who is gradually lured into the Phantom's lair, not really knowing where this new world will take her, successfully avoiding an overly operatic caricature. And in Simon Bailey’s Raoul we at last have a character of real passion and credibility rather than purely a handsome young piece of eye candy. Those of us familiar with the Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies (unfairly dubbed Paint Never Dries in its under acclaimed and all too short London run) can see why Raoul will descend into the embittered character he later becomes in that show. Elizabeth Marsh’s mysterious and brooding Madame Giry is again consistent with the character in that later show – it’s interesting to now see Phantom itself again having seen what happens later.

There is a huge sense of period and style here – the Masquerade Ball at the top of the second half sees the whole company suddenly appear on stage in a mass of colour. Brown’s set features the stunning opulence of the Opera House too, with the grand golden statues and brilliantly ornate boxes, not forgetting the infamous monkey ornament playing ‘Masquerade’ and of course the chandelier, which I was nervously sitting under. The chandelier moments were truly exciting with Lloyd Webber's mesmeric music (and David Cullen’s amazingly rich orchestrations) making an emotional climax and resounding out around the whole theatre. The 14 piece orchestra under the direction of Craig Edwards actually sounded more like a 25 piece orchestra or larger, and Mick Potter has done a fabulous job as Sound Designer, as every note and word could be heard clearly. Director Connor ensures that even the usual showstoppers (the title number, The Music of the Night, All I Ask of You) don’t interrupt the flow of the (skilfully portrayed) story here.

However, there is tension and excitement in juxtaposition to the spectacle, in the scenes where the Phantom takes Christine down into the labyrinth underground beneath the Opera House and in a scene where they close the 'theatre' in order to try to trap the Phantom during a performance in which Christine is taking the lead part. This was thrilling, edge of your seat stuff, as the actors appear at the exits and in the orchestra pit, accompanied by the sound of locking doors, and the Phantom's voice being thrown all around different parts of the theatre. The scene where Christine is at the graveyard talking to her deceased father, singing ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’, as she is in a predicament she cannot get out of, was well played and sung, and truly moving too.

The original design for Phantom is of course iconic, but this reimagining is spectacular, almost filmic at times. Paule Constable’s exquisite lighting (in an often literally dark piece) was thrillingly atmospheric and effective throughout. The special effects are too, with the Phantom appearing unexpectedly, and the ending is an amazing theatrical moment. I had forgotten just how rich this opera-infused score really is, and how well Richard Stilgoe and Charles Hart’s lyrics advance emotions and story.  There was no standing ovation at the performance I attended – maybe because we were all still so absorbed in the story – but this is a production of real quality that truly deserved one.