Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Phantom of the Opera North America Tour (Review)

Today I saw the North American tour of The Phantom of the Opera at Keller Auditorium.  As most of you know, I am a diehard Phantom fan having seen the production numerous times in Portland, London, and Vegas (on that note, let us take a moment of silence about the closing of the Vegas production).

This review will only focus on obvious changes to the story.  I have decided, however, not to comment on the cast or their ability to act and sing. Those judgements can be made by you.

What I witnessed today is the same music, new setting and costumes, and revised flavor of the entire production.  How do I feel?  Well how about, "Twisted every way, what answer can I give?"

If you have not seen it yet, be forewarned that what I'm about to write are spoilers.  Perhaps you'll thank me that I have lessened the shock factor for you beforehand. I will admit that the major changes to the sets add an overall improvement -- for the most part. The candelabras coming up from the floor are no more, but the dry ice continues to crawl across the stage floor as the Phantom's boat glides for a very short distance. 

However, it's the changes to the choreographing that strips away the old and leaves a rather dull and lifeless taste for me in this new version.  Perhaps I could blame it on my mood, or the sinus headache I nursed from Box 4 due to the high humidity.  All I know, is that the beloved emotions and tears I usually shed during the stage play were non-existent.  My eyes did not water, and my emotions remained for the most part unmoved, except for my occasional jaw-dropping episodes of shock.

What are the differences?  Well, here are a few quick highlights on what to expect.

1.  The most beloved of numbers, The Music of the Night, is very different from the original.  Cast away your memories of the Phantom putting his arm around Christine and swaying her back and forth in sweet intoxication.  Forget former scenes of them coming close as if they are about to kiss and swiftly pulling away. Their physical interaction and sensual attraction has vastly change, with a new act of the Phantom blindfolding Christine. At the end of the song, the mannequin bride that causes Christine to faint in his arms has disappeared. She is wide awake as he picks her up and walks her to his bed, lays her down, and finishes the song. Why she peacefully falls asleep, I'm not quite sure.

2.  Christine awakens but does not remove the Phantom's mask to see who is behind it.  Instead, he is off by himself, removes the mask, and picks up a handkerchief to dab his face. Hum, where did they get that idea? ("Taking his handkerchief from his pocket, he took the folded white linen and pressed it against his right cheek..." Quote from The Phantom of Valletta). When Christine awakens she sees his deformity. The Phantom rants as before, but no longer with the tearful emotion crawling on the floor. Not sure why he still calls her a "viper" and "this is what you wanted to see" when she wasn't responsible for stripping away the mask in the first place. 

3.  Masquerade - New costumes, improved set.  If you enjoyed the former quirky costumes in the older version, they have been replaced.  Raoul and Christine look basically the same, but Christine's dress is not as spectacular.  Also, be prepared to see the Phantom arrive in a totally different outfit.  He is dressed similar to the 2004 Movie outfit that Gerard Butler wore. The new set, however, is eye-catching and mesmerizing with mirrors.

4.  "Wandering Child" takes on a new direction when Christine finishes her song. The Phantom and Raoul actually get into a physical altercation, i.e. pushing, shoving, falling, fists flying, etc. The Phantom continues to throw his fireballs (even more impressive) as Raoul moves about the stage. Kiss goodbye the Phantom's fedora.

5.  The final lair scene is odd.  It opens with the Phantom finishing to dress Christine in the wedding dress. Without the bride in MOTN, those who watch it for the first time will be scratching their heads as to what is going on.  He is physically cruel to Christine when Raoul arrives on the scene. He puts her in a hold that looks as if he would snap her neck, then releases her and keeps her captive by grabbing her by the throat, and eventually throws her on the bed and pins her there while he's singing his demands. I found these changes bothersome.

6.  By the time the kiss comes, the "pitiful creature of darkness" has acted as a very dark character indeed.  It leaves little hope that Christine's kiss will redeem him in any fashion, and there is little reluctance or sadness on her departure from the lair with Raoul. Afterward, he is left crying over scattered musical sheets on the stage floor rather than the left-behind bridal veil that symbolizes love lost.

7.  His disappearance from the chair is no more, but alas he does disappear into thin air and Meg still holds the mask up as the curtain goes down.

There are other changes that I have not touched upon and will leave for my readers to discover on their own.  You will note that the Phantom does have more presence as he sneaks about in the background in various scenes.

The Lost Message?
For some fans these changes will be unsettling while for others no big deal.  The audience at Keller Auditorium cheered, whistled, and clapped their approval during the bows, so for the newer generations or those who have never seen the play, it is apparently well received.

What did I like about it? The improved sets in spite of the missing rising candelabras and extended boat scene. 

What I didn't like about it? The changes to iconic scenes that dismiss the intrigue that Christine feels for the Phantom and his yearning in return to have her as his own.  His bid to seduce her into his world (as the dictionary would say, "to win over, attract, or lure") is gone and replaced by the darker treatment and lack of attraction between the characters.

As Phantom Vegas once advertised their show, "Be Seduced," I am sad to say that the North American Tour did not seduce me at all.



Anonymous said...

i saw the phantom of the opera in tulsa and i rather liked it, i've never seen the original musical, but i thought the sets were amazing, but i get what you mean when you said they changed some of it, i saw the royal albert hall version and the one thing that i notcied was that you didn't see him playing the organ in the overture like you did in the original musical.

janephob said...

Nice review. Does the chandelier still crash at the end of Act One?

Vicki Hopkins said...

Yes, it still falls. A better-looking chandelier too.

D. Savage said...

I saw a production last year in Memphis, and while most of the case were really amazing, and the sets were incredible, I thought the guy playing the Phantom was TERRIBLE largely because of similar things you describe in your review - the maltreatment of Christine rather than seductive demonstrations that he loves her, over-the-top aggression, mummy-like ghoulish behavior. I was so disappointed. As a die-hard fan since 1986 who is enamored of Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess's portrayals in particular, I was disgusted at the performance, and someone sitting near me actually laughed at the Phantom. I teach, and I have shared the 25th Anniversary show with all my classes and hoped to take them to see the show in Nashville in Spring of 16; now, I am concerned that they will feel the same disappointment that I did. :(

Anonymous said...

I will be seeing the Phantom in Grand Rapids next May, and am a bit dismayed by some of your critiques of the US Tour. While I saw the original Phantom in Toronto in 1991, I have only snippets of memory. My concerns about what you express are founded more on what I have been seeing and listening to on the web of the original productions as a way of refreshing my memory. So, one thing I thoroughly enjoy hearing from Michael Crawford occurs when the Phantom turns Carlotta's voice into the croak of a toad. As he is laughing uproariously about Carlotta's dilemma, he shouts out at the top of his voice "Behold, she sings to bring down the Chandelier".

I so want to hear that line in the performance that I will be seeing and am afraid it will be left out(I believe it does not occur in the 2004 movie). Perhaps a little heads up from you will help me weather the disappointment now, should the line be absent, rather than right at the moment that I am trying to enjoy the performance. So yes, I want to be "spoiled" ahead of time regarding this line in the play. I have five months to "get over it", should the line be absent! Many thanks in advance.