Review: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
For a theatre person (NOTE: If you’ve missed it on those occasions where I’ve explained it before, “theatre” with an R-E at the end denotes live theatre, stage theatre, as opposed to “theater” with E-R at the end, which means a movie theater.) I’m in the minority in that I don’t care for musicals. There are three major exceptions, and all of them are based on old Horror movies or Literature: JEKYLL AND HYDE, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. These I love passionately, so when I learned that PHANTOM was coming to Alabama, I was willing to fork over the exorbitant ticket prices and make the long drive to Birmingham to see it. I was surprised to be able to get such good seats for the minimum charge (which still ain’t cheap by any stretch); a couple of seats must have just opened up in the second loge, a case of perfect timing. Even if I’d had to pay top dollar for orchestra pit seats, though, the cost and the lengthy drive would have been worth it. What a spectacular event it was.
It thrilled me, too, that the performance I witnessed had a black actor cast as the Phantom, the first time I’ve ever heard of this being done. Not because I’m a stickler for forced inclusivity or anything of the sort; but as a director I am a huge fan of blind casting (where the skin pigmentation of the performer is irrelevant, unless there is some specific reason why the character must belong to a certain race; RAISIN IN THE SUN, for example) and Phantom Derrick Davis made for a stellar leading man. Aside from the acting and the music, which were excellent in the extreme, the costumes were sumptuous, the sets were stunning, and the special effects, like the rowboat traversing the subterranean lake and the dropping of the huge chandelier into the audience, were mind-blowing. The production earned its standing ovation, that’s for sure.
I have to give credit to Andrew Lloyd Webber, who recognized in the novel by Gaston Leroux and the silent film by Lon Chaney a story tailor-made for music. Had Chaney’s classic been a “talkie” and had there been some way for Leroux to add musical accompaniment to his book, the music would have been there already. Webber provided the story with its proper soundtrack. (If you wanna try a neat experiment, watch the silent classic with the soundtrack to the musical playing in the background. Key up the corresponding songs to the correct scenes. It works.)
My one complaint is the same as I have with all musicals. It seems plot is sacrificed for the sake of including more musical numbers, and PHANTOM is no different. Gone from the musical is the undercover policeman and, most missed of all, the torture chamber. The musical, however, or rather this new and improved version of it, offers an ending more satisfying than that provided either by the novel or Chaney’s masterpiece: the Phantom, surrounded by the armed mob, literally disappears from the stage. He gets away—which is as it should be—and is just the way the audience wants it.