Arts & Entertainment
Gimmicky, romantic 'Phantom' still charms
By Jenn McKee
Originally printed 9/17/2009 (Issue 1738 - Between The Lines News)
At a certain point, you wonder what's left for a critic to say about a perpetually-touring theater staple like Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera." The show's a known commodity for ticket-buyers; it boasts a legion of hardcore fans who buy tickets every time the show comes to town; and it's probably as review-proof as a musical can be at this point.
For these same reasons, "Phantom," the reigning king of mainstream spectacle musicals, is regularly mocked and parodied. Detractors argue that audiences are too-easily won over by gimmicky stunts, like the huge chandelier that floats to the top of the theater and, later, crashes down onto the stage.
But even ALW haters - I know you're out there, I hear you muttering - must begrudgingly acknowledge that there are several reasons why "Phantom" long ago achieved blockbuster status. With a sweepingly romantic score that could be labeled "brain Velcro," a tragic, old-fashioned love story, and sumptuous, elaborate costumes and sets, "Phantom" seduces you by virtue of being so darn easy on the eyes and ears.
Yes, the show can be self-conscious in its prettiness at times. Christine's friend Meg (Jessica Bishop), dressed in a quaint, sweet little ballet costume, is often posed like a lovely prop at the end of numbers; and the opera's ballet dancers uniformly have long, lush, thick, curly wigs/hair. But this is the stuff of romantic fantasy, of course, so early on, you either check out or give yourself over to it (surrender all irony, those who enter here).
I did the latter and was surprised by how many pleasures the show still has to offer. With its crazy-high-end production values, "Phantom" is gorgeous to look at, and its familiar songs, performed in the context of Stilgoe and Webber's book, resume some of the beauty they've lost after years of being relentlessly performed by marching bands.
For the few readers unfamiliar with the show's story (how did things go in the Biosphere, by the way?), "Phantom" begins with the rise of Christine Daae (Trista Moldovan) from opera chorus girl to star, with the help of a mysterious vocal tutor (Tim Martin Gleason). The Phantom, who hides his deformed face behind a mask, loves Christine, but she soon falls for an old childhood friend, Raoul (Sean MacLaughlin), causing the Phantom to lash out in a fit of rage and jealousy.
The cast, as you might expect, is highly polished and sounds great, with Moldovan and MacLaughlin, as well Kim Stengel as Carlotta, providing particularly outstanding vocals. (While Gleason grew on me as the show progressed, I thought his performance too heavy-handed during the first act.)
Some of the show's numbers grow redundant and outstay their welcome - my mind wandered during both "All I Ask of You" and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," for example - but it's awfully hard to argue with the blueprint for the longest-running Broadway musical in history. Especially when a show so familiar still manages to charm and surprise you in new ways.
'The Phantom of the Opera'
Broadway in Detroit at the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway St., Detroit. Tuesday - Sunday through Sep. 27. Tickets begin at $23. 313-872-1000. http://www.broadwayindetroit.com
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