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A CurtainUp Review
Phantom of the Opera
The mask remains even as the men hiding behind it change, along with the lady who is the subject of the mysterious phantom's obsession. Michael Crawford originated the role to much acclaim. Ron Bohmer, currently in a quite different disguise as the Scarlet Pimpernel had a successful tenure in the role. The most recent actor to don the mask, Howard McGillin, imbues the man whose scarred face rules his destiny with touching pathos..
The question that arises about a show that has passed its first decade to become a fixture on the must-see tourist horizon, is whether the overall quality on a par with the original. Is the show seen by today's audiences fresh and crisp or a warmed-up edition of the original? The answer is yes on the first count and no on the second. Anyone who is not aware of Phantom's longevity, could easily mistake it for a show that opened within the last 12 months rather than as many years ago. Staging, the orchestra, the performances -- all excellent and enthusiastic, fresh as bread from a hot oven. Who could ask for anything more?
Well, as far as the audiences who fill up the Majestic night after night, nothing at all! Even the traditionally slow Tuesday at which I recently saw the show, there was nary an empty seat in sight. "Fabulous" is the adjective of choice one hears at the intermission.
For those of a more critical mind set will now, as ten years ago, wish for less reliance on the famous chandelier and other theatrical pyrotechnics as well as some rationing of the syrup and reprises of the more memorable numbers. But then, who's to diddle with success? Instead of weeping of bygone musical greats, why not accept Phantom on its own terms -- as an easy to enjoy, visually take-your-breath-away entertainment on the grandest of grand scales. Rogers and Hammerstein would hardly have been attracted to Gaston Leroux's gothic romance. Sir Andrew's soaring poperatic musical sensibility on the other hand is a perfectly suited to the story of the scar-faced, masked man who haunts the Paris Opera House until he falls in love with Miss Christine Daae and becomes her "Angel of Music."
As various actors have donned the Phantom's mask so the other leading players and the ensemble have changed over the years, often rotating with players in the various road companies, the exception being Leila Martin who still holds sway as the mysteriously forbidding Madame Giry. Gary Mauer brings the required dashing good looks to the role of the Phantom's rival, Raoul. The current Christine (Adrienne McEwan -- Sarah Pfeisterer spells McEwan on Wednesday matinee and Thursday evenings) and Carlotta (Liz McCartney) ably fill the shoes of their predecessors and have strong enough voices to bring off one's fantasy that Lloyd Weber would add a few of Verdi's magnificent arias to his mock Aida. Even though the pop score prevails, the opera within an opera plot is great fun.
Praise though this and no doubt previous casts deserve, the stars whose vision haunt The Phantom of the Opera are the production designer Marla B. Bjornson and director Harold Prince. The chandelier is only one part of their-anything-is-possible-when-we-make-theater vision. There's the auction scene that leads to that chandelier's gasp-causing descent, the Ziegfeld-like grand staircase that makes the cast look even larger than it is, the watery labyrinth of the Phantom's lair. It's all as grand as any ballet or opera production.
To sum up, as Laroux's horror tale and Lloyd Webber's popera make for the ideal marriage of two kitsch masters, so Bjorson and Prince have proved themselves the dream team of theater magicians to provide the appropriate smoke and mirror glitz to make it, if not the best musical of the last decade, one of the most successful ones.
Should you bring the kids? While I saw some seven to ten year olds in the audience and this is not nearly as scary as some of the stuff being shown on the big and little screen, I'd stick to the 12 and up recommendation in our Broadway address book.