The Phantom of the Opera

By Tulis McCall

James Barbour as The Phantom; credit Joan Marcus

James Barbour as The Phantom; credit Joan Marcus

Join me for a little jaunt down memory lane to a magical place that is alive and well. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, directed by theater legend Harold Prince and produced by Cameron Mackintosh and The Really Useful Group, is the longest-running show in Broadway history. A recent revisit to this lavish production got me to thinking about what it takes to make a show age so beautifully.

Well, you start with a story that reeks of sexuality, mystery, innocence and passion.  Then you add music that weaves motif after motif together in a manner that even a tone deaf person could grasp.  Add impeccable design – 19th century costumes and a set that is so enormous it dwarfs the cast and so spectacular that you can hardly keep track of where you are.  Top it off with staging that is actor proof and voila!

When I say actor-proof, I don’t mean that this cast is in any way deficient.  Indeed, each is an impeccable performer.  The three principals have spectacular voices that span several octaves, and each knows exactly  how to deliver the goods.  Julia Urdine as Christine is no shrinking violet.  She is a young woman who opens her heart and her voice to whatever adventure the world offers, including the power and dark magic of the Phantom.  Jeremy Hays (Raoul) has the difficult job of playing second romantic fiddle to the Phantom, and he maneuvers up that river without flagging for an instant.  James Barbour (the 15th Phantom on Broadway) is menacing and vulnerable, and his passion takes up the entire stage whenever he is on it.  Watching him in person one realizes that singing with a mask and several layers of latex on your face is no easy feat.  Barbour, however makes it look so.

The Phantom of the Opera, based on the classic novel by Gaston Leroux, is the story of a man who was born with a horribly deformed face.  He hides in the bowels of a Paris opera house where he toys with and torments the occupants just because he can.  When he hears Christine Daaé sing, however, his heart bursts open and he dedicates himself to nurturing her talent.  Soon the Phantom is overtaken by his own passion for Christine as a woman and a singer, and he becomes reckless.  He shows her his lair in the river below the city.  He reveals his love for her.  She responds in kind, until she sees his face.  Still, their connection remains inviolable, even when Christine tumbles for Raoul.  The Phantom makes demands on her behalf and declares war on the opera house when his demands are not met.  Everything comes to a head, with Raoul becoming the pawn.  The lovers are allowed to live and the Phantom – well, who knows what happened to him?

This story has it all: music that stays with you long after the curtain comes down (yes I bought the CD), love in an array of colors, fantasy, danger, sex, hopes and dreams.  The Phantom of the Opera remains a stunning production that engages the ear, the eye and the heart.  The fact that is has done so for nearly 30 years world wide is testament to the crafty craft of making theatre.  Theatre is ultimately a magic show, and one of the reasons being human is such a gas.

 

Got a friend coming into town?  Take her to see this one.  You won’t be disappointed one little bit.  And when you buy the music I won’t say, “I told you so.”  Promise.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Directed by Harold Prince; Lyrics by Charles Hart, Additional Lyrics by Richard Sligoe

The Phantom of the Opera…………………………………………….…………………………..….…………James Barbour
Christine ……………………….………..………………………………………………………..….……………..Julia Udine
Christine Daaé (at certain performances)…….………..…….……………………….………….….…..………Rachel Zatcoff
Raoul…………………………………………………………………………………………….……..…………..Jeremy Hays
Carlotta Guidicelli……………………………………………………………….…………….…..………Michele McConnell
Monsieur Andre……………………………..………………………………………………….…..…….…..Laird Mackintosh
Monsieur Firmin……………………………………………………………………………………..…….………Caig Bennett

Madame Giry…………………………………………….………………………………………..….…………Linda Balgord
Ubaldo Piangi…..…………………………………………………………………………………..…….……..Christian Šebek
Meg Giry………………………………………………………………….………………………………………….…Kara Klein

Production design by Maria Bjornson; Lighting by Andrew Bridge

Opened on Broadway: January 26, 1988; Schedule: Mon, Weds-Sat @8, Tues @ 7, Thurs & Sat @ 2
Tickets: $27-$142 (Premium also available); Call Telecharge (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com

 

Tulis McCall

Author: Tulis McCall

For my money, the theatre is up there in the ten top reasons to be human. I leave my home and go sit in a dark room with complete strangers and watch actors do their stuff because I want to be inspired. I’m asking to be involved. I’m volunteering to be led down any old path they choose as long as they don’t let go of my hand. And if I see a show, and it is NOT so very good – I will try to divert you, because I don’t want you to come to the temple when the preaching isn’t up to snuff. I will bar the door, I will swing from rafters, I will yell FIRE just to set your feet on a path that does not lead to disappointment. Do something different with your evening I will say. Save your money for dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in months because you are too frigging busy. Go take a walk with your dog or your child or your significant other. Go to bed early, I will say. Don’t come to the theatre when it is less than it can be. I’m an usher snob, and that’s all there is to it.

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