Revisiting ‘Phantom’

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Book by Richard Stilgoe & Andrew Lloyd Webber
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Charles Hart
Based on the novel by Gaston LeRoux
Directed by Harold Prince
Choreography by Gillian Lynne
Majestic Theatre
247 West 44th Street

By David NouNou

Whether one calls it a Broadway sensation or a tourist attraction, one can’t deny that Phantom is a musical phenomenon. Opened on January 28, 1988, it was the blockbuster then and is still playing strong almost 27 years later. Seeing it originally in 1988 with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, one was dazzled by the show and its showmanship. Seeing it now, one can’t help but study the audience as much as the show. Surely every New Yorker has seen this show at least once. However, observing and listening to the audience now, you realize that you might be the only native New Yorker in the theatre. Just like the Statue of Liberty and The Empire State Building, Phantom has become an institution that is visited by people from all over the world.

So what makes this the longest-running Broadway show? 26 years may not seem long historically, but imagine if you had a child on the night you saw this show in early 1988; your child would be 26 years old today and that is truly monumental.

What is it that has captivated audiences for all these years? It seems like a mandatory subject in schools to see this show, because at any given performance there are the lines of students waiting to get in. What is the mystique that surrounds this show?

Everyone knows the story of this love triangle between opera singer, Christine Daae (Sierra Boggess), her mentor, the phantom (Norm Lewis) and her suitor, Raoul (Jeremy Hays), so no need to dwell on the storyline. The magic flows from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s immortal music. American or foreign tourist, there isn’t anyone who is not familiar with that lush score. Needless to say, with its pre-recorded musical tracks, it engulfs the senses and turns the melodies into grand, operatic arias. From its design standpoint, it has been maintained to perfection. The sets and costumes by the late Maria Bjornson are still a standout and enthralling as ever. Rest assured that the visual feast has not deteriorated or frayed.

The style of acting and singing is more operatic in nature than realistic for the stage. So the cast has its ups and downs. Sierra Boggess as Christine is an amplified singing nightingale. Norm Lewis, as the Phantom, has a great deep singing voice, but his Phantom is more a pitiable old man than a mesmerizingly menacing seducer and lacks the charisma to fill the stage, especially when he is not on that much. Jeremy Hays in the thankless role of Raoul is just there. As far as the supporting cast is concerned, you have to grade them on a cheese scale; from camembert to Roquefort to stilton. They do need a tighter rein; less broad, “over the top’ and more down-to-earth realism.

As a whole, The Phantom of the Opera is still a gem of a show, the last of its kind. It’s a link to the theatrical past when the shows were opulent and eye-popping. If anyone ever wondered what splendiferous shows of yesteryear were like, I would urge you to see Phantom.

Edited by Scott Harrah
Published June 26, 2014
Reviewed at performance on June 25, 2014

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