Monday, June 12, 2017
The Phantom of the Opera (Smith Center)
What works best with The Phantom of the Opera is the whole Grand Guignol aspects of it. The opening scene, in which items are auctioned off at the now closed opera house, including the chandelier that tumbled onto the audience sets the stage, and when the chandelier is pointed out, it lights up with sparks and we get the familiar theme hammered out on the organ. It's kind of like a haunted house ride, and as long as that theme reoccurs every so often, all is good. The longer we go between these bursts of horror kitsch the more likely one is to nod off.
The story is loosely based on Gaston Leroux's novel, but more closely matches the 1925 Rupert Julian film. The opera house is said to be haunted, but it is not until the "opera ghost" takes special notice of a dancer called upon to sing the lead, Christine Daae, does he really make his presence known. He demands that she sing, and when she doesn't, he plays some horrible tricks, such as hanging a stagehand and sending that chandelier down (a stunning end to Act I).
Christine is torn between the dark romance of the Phantom, who takes her down into his underground lair, and sings her the best song of the show, "Music of the Night." But she's got a regular boyfriend, Raul, who points out that he's just a man and that he's not exactly mentally healthy. In the end, the Phantom kidnaps her, but is rescued by Raul, but he is not caught, setting us up for a sequel.
The spectacle is what works in the productions. The revolving sets are amazing, and the costumes grand. The key performances are great, too. They must be operatic singers, and Derrick Davis as the Phantom and Katie Travis as Christine are first rate (I much preferred her to Sarah Brightman in the original cast). What doesn't work, especially when you're in the nosebleed seats, is what the Phantom looks like without his mask.
I'm on the fence as to whether The Phantom of the Opera, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Charles Hart, is a great musical. Webber, one of the most successful composers for the stage ever, has an ability to create themes that won't let you go, and "Music of the Night," like "Memory" and "I Don't Know How to Love Him," are songs that will last forever. But I can't help but feel that the whole thing is too much kitsch, and there's a patina of commercialism over it. I imagine it's kept running for nearly thirty years because it's ideal for tourists, like visiting the Hard Rock Cafe. It might night not be great, but it's worth doing, even if so you can say you've done it.