Now, I have to admit that I tend to find the music of this piece quite repetitive and not terrifically inspired, although that may be due to the fact that I’ve heard at least bits and pieces of it over and over again for a long time. It is true that I thought that the singing voices of the cast seemed pretty good to me and I didn’t have much trouble with the acting as being at an acceptable standard. Overall, however, I confess that I felt that the only thing which really caught my attention was the spectacle of the production, and even that wasn’t quite as impressive as I had been led to expect.
The costumes were quite nicely done, although they seemed a bit too “over the top” with their great emphasis on beading, etc. But costumes aren’t my specialty, so I shouldn’t be too critical. They may be historically correct. The lighting was okay, but I was not taken with it as being of unusually great beauty or elaborateness. It was perfectly acceptable, but really didn’t strike me as anything terribly special. The scenery, for the most part, was impressive. It struck me as ingenious and elaborate, although even with it there were some things which didn’t seem to make sense, at least to me. The rather obvious “defense de fumer” (No Smoking) sign, which was perfectly appropriate backstage at the Palais Garnier (which is the actual name of the theatre known as the Paris Opera where the story is supposed to take place) just didn’t work for me when it showed up as visible in the cemetery.
Now, I’m probably spoiled from having spent too many years working in tech theatre and spending too much time studying theatre history, but I do know a little bit about the actual Paris Opera (Palais Garnier). It’s possible that some of my former students might even remember that, towards the end of my teaching career, I used to include the picture below in my PowerPoint related to Brockett’s chapter on European Theatre towards the end of the Nineteenth Century.
My understanding is that, in the original production, the chandelier “fell” in an arc and crashed onto the stage, where it could be taken care of (cleaned up) during the intermission. I remember being told, by folks who seemed to know what they were talking about, that the original tour required three copies of the chandelier (“one in the air, one in repair and one as a spare”) because the spectacular chandelier “drop” was quite likely to do at least some damage which would require attention before the chandelier could be used again. For this tour, the chandelier (which was impressive) was hung over the center of the auditorium prior to the audience’s entrance and shrouded in cloth, probably parachute silk, I later decided. This disappeared at the appropriate moment in a satisfactory manner, but when the chandelier was supposed to fall at the end of Act I, it did so into an immediate blackout, so that it probably moved about 10-15 feet straight down and merely hung there, undamaged, until it was raised back into its higher position during the intermission.
Maggi and I were both quite disappointed in this effect. We had both been looking forward to it as we had both been told it was the highest point of spectacle in the show. It simply wasn’t, so we both felt let down.
I think the thing which most disturbed me, however was that I found the storyline hard to follow, as if the show had been reedited for this “new” tour and various bits of information regarding some of these people had been left out. I have since seen the movie version and read the original book (quickly and not terribly closely), so I now have a better handle on the plot, but I find in unacceptable that it seemed so hard to follow the storyline in performance. I was not conscious of having much difficulty understanding what was being said, it just seemed that there was stuff I wasn’t being told, like the fact that Christine had died prior to the beginning of the show.
Then there was the fact that this show just plain seemed out of touch with the times we are in. Whether we like it or not, we ARE in an era of #MeToo, and this is a story about a guy who is clearly obsessive to the point of major instability. He engages in kidnapping, blackmail and murder, attempts seduction to the point of threatening what is (essentially) a forcible marriage, and tries to destroy the career of folks he doesn’t like, or whom he feels are threatening his “love.”
In an age when people are losing their careers from just being accused of improper conduct, I’m not sure that it makes sense to suggest that the story of the “phantom” is one of the “great love stories of all time.” It is, in my opinion, a Romantic, Gothic melodrama of a fairly high ilk, but Mary Shelley (I think) wrote a better one 75-80 years earlier, and I prefer The Three Musketeers (also Romantic melodrama, although not exactly Gothic) as a story. There are many works of musical theatre which I have found to be, perhaps less spectacular, but at least clearer as a story. Of course, I tend to think that The Fantasticksjust may be the best musical ever written, but that’s my problem.
If you are offended by my lack of enthusiasm for Phantom, I’m sorry, but I won’t lie about it. I don’t think it’s all that great a story. I find much of the music to be too “earwormy” for me to really enjoy, and I didn’t find this production as exciting as I had been led to expect. I’m not sorry to have seen the show (any theatre is better than none), but I’m glad Maggi was able to get a good deal on our seats, as the production didn’t really meet our expectations. I guess that it rather left me with a less than great taste in my mouth, especially considering the tenor of the times. Given my reaction, I’m left with the question “So, what’s with The Phantom of the Opera, anyway?”