Wednesday, 3 September 2008

RANDOM: On Seeing "Phantom"

Can the RZ make a confession? Until last week, he had never before seen The Phantom of the Opera. Sure it had toured where he grew up and worked, and yes he’d been to Broadway plenty of times, but the tour was always a bad time or at the Kennedy Center (where a tour costs more than Broadway). And Broadway? There’s always so many other things to see, especially at Tony time...

So why not write a proper review? Well, it wouldn’t do much good. The show has been talked about for ages, and the cast are changing over at the end of this week. It’s also the kind of show where one of three people make up the majority of audiences: tourists, those on a romantic outing (Valentine’s Day/Anniversary), and fanboys/girls. Routine theatregoers don’t go to Phantom often because, like the RZ, there’s so much else happening that they find no urgency in doing so.

It’s also hard to judge a show that’s about to celebrate its 22nd anniversary without having to work through years of ingrained hype. The RZ grew up with the OLC on cassette and has one of those heat-sensitive mugs that shows the Phantom’s mask when you pour your tea in back in storage, but he only routinely listened to the first side of the tape (roughly through “Music of the Night”).

So seeing it live? It’s hard to be unbiased after all this, and having an associate in the cast take him backstage before the show didn’t help.

The big problem, really, is wondering nowadays what the big deal was. The spectacle which wowed audiences 22 years ago is old hat now, and while it still impresses it’s not as immersive as Starlight Express or as lush as Lord of the Rings - but it works and works well though the chandelier felt so...well...slow. The score is pretty, and the big numbers that got so much radio exposure in the 80’s hold up, but “Music of the Night” seems unusually long. The lyrics had a lot of false or non-rhymes though - far more than the RZ remembers from the tape of long ago and something which was greatly smoothed over in various translations (something he double-checked on the Japanese and German recordings before writing this piece).

And then there’s the whole creep-factor. Phantom is considered one of the ultimate stage romances, but the RZ wondered why Christine didn’t immediately report the Phantom to the authorities or stab him when he made his first sexual advances. Last he checked, stalkers and obsessives are considered to be bad people, not love-love icons. “Point of No Return” is doubly creepy in this context. But again, it works - just not on the level it was intended.

So in the end? It’s a good show, but 22 years of status and hype behind it make the experience one audiences go in to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of being swept away or leave thinking scratching their heads. The RZ uncomfortably finds himself somewhere in-between.

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