“Like, OMG!!!! What was that……..that thing I experienced??? It bore a striking resemblance to something I remember from my younger days…….but BRUCE, REALLY……!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” That’s how I felt seeing the allegedly, “NEW” and improved production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera”.
I have to offer several disclaimers off the top: 1) I am going to go into detail about the production, so, even though it has left Toronto, if you plan to see it, wherever it has gone to next, I will be very descriptive about what I saw, and 2) I know this show inside out and almost backwards……… so I have had a very long love for this musical which, of course means, I am extremely biased!!!! Surprise! Surprise! NOT!!!!
So, we arrived at the Princess of Wales Theatre, getting there just in time for the opening of the house to that evening’s audience and found our seats. Bloody hell, we were high up, mind you we were in the balcony, and front row of the balcony at that!!! The perfect position to be in to throw any annoying audience members to a well deserved demise (absolutely in character for such a show – n’est-ce pas?) and there were several candidates on either side of us that were deserving of the experience, but I digress.
Looking around the auditorium everything look as it should, but wait!!! There was a large object suspended over the audience covered in a massive cloth. There was printing on the cloth, LOT 666!!! What??? What is THAT doing there??? It doesn’t belong THERE – at least, not yet!!!! HARUMPH!!!!!! Not a good start!!!
Finally the house lights dim and we start. What the hell is going on down there? The auctioneer jumps on to a table! WHAT??? What the hell is that huge staff in his hand? Does anyone know the story of the composer Jean-Baptiste Lully? He would conduct his orchestra with a rod as big as that in his hand until he rammed that damned thing through his foot and I think you can figure out the rest, just remember the result was not good for Lully. All I could wish for was that the auctioneer would do the same with his staff because barely 5 minutes in I’m not impressed. WAIT!! Rauol may be an older man, but he’s just standing around!!!! Where is his wheelchair and nurse? This is getting worse, but HOW MUCH? The music box monkey, that’s how much!!!! This new production couldn’t keep this important prop simple, NO!!!! It had to open up the same way that Ron Weasley’s box with a chocolate covered frogs did and “BOO” there’s the monkey!!!! Such an unnecessary annoyance!!!!
Right, uncover the chandelier, oh, yeah did I mention it’s already in place? Oh, well!!! And on to the Overture…. survived it, but not by much. Now let’s go back in time.
We arrive at the Opera Populaire many years earlier and the rehearsal of the opera Hannibal. Piangi and Carlotta, one of the comic duos of the show are as stiff as a cement brick, forget about their lines being humourous, the way they were delivered was so dry that no amount of water could bring them back to life. Time to introduce Christine with “Think of Me”, a beautiful song, beautifully sung. Her timidity in the beginning as she sings in front of the new owners of the opera house during the rehearsal right through to her opening night performance was perfect. I just wished the director had done a better job of hiding her more thoroughly as from where I was sitting her on stage costume change was visible ruining the effect “From Chorus Girl to Lead”.
After, the performance things go down hill again!!!! WHAT? Christine doesn’t get to enjoy the Diva’s Dressing Room; she’s been left to make her stage debut dressing in the change room of the other members of the Corps de Ballet. GREAT!!!! Such appreciation!!! NOT!!!!
On to “Angel of Music”, this song is such a wonderful set up to the primary conflict of our show between Raoul and the Phantom for our female protagonist and yet it comes across that Raoul is treating the situation dismissively. What ever happened to him hearing what was going on in the dressing room and unable to help Christine being locked out of the room, until he breaks the door down? What we got was Raoul presumably, getting himself lost back stage for some time, turning up to get Christine, shrugging his shoulders and acting like “Well, maybe she’s gone out for a quick puff.” Can you feel the tension? NO!!!!! Oh, I should also mention that Christine doesn’t walk through the mirror that leads to the passsages going to the Phantom’s lair! Noooooooooo! He conveniently has been able to install a one sided door in the Ballet Dressing Room practice mirror. I am bug eyed. That makes no sense whatsoever! ARGH!!!!!
The title song of the show, “The Phantom of the Opera”, had the only bit of staging that I wish could be adopted into the original staging. The staircase that comes out of the wall as the Phantom and Christine make their way to the boat was brilliant, even if it had a very wee bit of a “Mamma Mia” feel about it. And we arrive in the Phantom’s dwelling. Hang on!! Why is he in a cramped bachelor apartment? With all the trouble of getting us down to his digs surely he could have been given more room to spread out! And where’s his throne and free standing mirror with the mannequin of Christine in a wedding dress? More on that later………. to be continued
JPS for B.I.T.C
Edited by Mary Ellen Monk