It took a year and a half, a six-figure budget and a lot of hard work by dozens of people. But on Wednesday, a preview of Free-Rain Theatre company's Canberra premiere production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera showed what audiences could expect.
The chandelier lit up and rose to the ceiling and the Phantom (Michael Cormick) and Christine (Julie Lea Goodwin) moved in their boat through fog while performing the driving title song.
The show - an international hit with a multibillion-dollar gross - tells the story of a love triangle in 19th-century Paris, with the mysterious Phantom obsessed with young soprano Christine, who is in love with Raoul (David Pearson).
Musical director Ian McLean said: ''I've conducted 30 shows since I've been in Canberra and this is by far the biggest and most complex. It's more like an opera than musical theatre.''
He said Lloyd Webber was ''the modern-day Verdi or Puccini'' and called conducting the piece ''the quintessence of metronomical exactitude'' - the co-ordination between orchestra and singers had to be precise throughout every performance, from the sweeping romantic numbers such as All I Ask Of You to the near-atonality of the Phantom's opera-in-the-opera, Don Juan Triumphant. ''Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote this for an orchestra of 27 and we have the exact same orchestration and instrumentation.''
Cormick and Goodwin have starred in professional productions of the show and McLean said they had been an immense help polishing the performances of many of the Canberra cast members.
''It's like they've had three months of free acting and singing lessons,'' he said.
''Michael's diction is so absolutely precise and perfect I've asked the cast to listen to the way he enunciates and imitate it.''
He said the show's emerging director, David Harmon, was ''a very clever young man with a very bright future''.
Harmon - whose credits include being resident director on Opera Australia's production of A Little Night Music - said he was excited at how well the production was coming together and recalled visiting the Palais Garnier and the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, two of the main settings of the show, for inspiration.
He also paid tribute to the many people working behind the scenes, including Fiona Leach and the team who sourced, designed and made the 220 costumes for the production.
''People were so passionate and willing to work so hard so we could do something this special in Canberra.''
Choreographer Jacqueline Richards said: ''The first thing people say to me is, 'Is there any dancing in Phantom?' ''
She said, contrary to popular belief, there was a lot, from the work of the classical ballet corps of eight to the massed company dance numbers. ''It's a lot more challenging than a box step.''
After the preview, it was back to rehearsals. Pearson - whose career in amateur and professional theatre goes back 24 years, to a Canberra production of West Side Story - said: ''The Phantom is going to start the pyrotechnics and I guess I get in the way of some of them. I've got to be on my guard.''
■ The Phantom of the Opera is on at the Canberra Theatre as follows: previews August 9 at 8pm and August 10 at 2pm then August 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 21 and 22 at 8pm and August 17 and 18 at 2pm.
Tickets $47.50-$58.50 in previews then $61.50-$81.75. Bookings: Canberra Ticketing 6275 2700.