MELBOURNE'S love affair with the world's most successful musical found new passion last night when The Phantom of the Opera made a triumphant return to Princess Theatre.
    We may have seen it before -- 17 years ago to be precise -- but the romantic thriller still had the audience on the edge of its seats, calling thunderously for more as the curtain fell.
    This stunning musical has held its appeal with breathtaking beauty and style.
    The original English creative team's brilliance -- which includes more than 230 elaborate costumes, spectacular sets and some of Andrew Lloyd Webber's memorable, luscious music -- was so enduring we easily entered the dark depths of the Paris Opera House with the brooding, dangerous Phantom.
    The ensemble scenes were vibrant, tight and vivid, with an exceptionally solid cast, peaking with the Masquerade Ball.
    But the heart of the magic was the chemistry between the lead characters.
    All eyes and ears were on Anthony Warlow as The Phantom, wondering how he would interpret the role that made him famous 17 years ago.
    From the moment he emerged in the mirror scene he had the audience in his hand.
    His maturity brought new depth and vulnerability to one of the most complex roles in musical theatre.
    Illness did not dampen Warlow's vocal majesty, though he avoided the crucial top note everyone waits for in Music of the Night.