Friday, December 16, 2005

You'd never get away with all this in a play

Saw "The Phantom of the Opera" last night. Swoon! I almost didn't go, and then gentleman-caller said "Why don't we?" and so we did. I saw it in high school and was obsessed with it around seventh grade. The soundtrack album is permanently burnt into my brain, and at home I have "The Complete Phantom of the Opera" coffee-table book, along with another giant book on Lloyd Webber. I studied and studied and studied the libretto and pictures, mentally filling the spaces in the soundtrack. Generally I could work out the tune of the unrecorded bits of music by reading the lyrics - once you know the musical themes, it's easy to match the rhythms up. And, of course, I read the novel several times. I should've tackled it in the original French when I could, but by that point of high school I had sort of lost interest in The Phantom. Seeing it then was great, but it also felt like a bit of a letdown; emotionally, a live show couldn't match the heights I'd attained with the music and my imagination. So I went to see it last night as more of a curiosity (like the film).

It still holds up as a spectacle. Nothing can beat the opening chandelier ascent (even the big descent, which is a shame, but that's a fault of Harold Prince's original direction). The dressing-room/labyrinth run is campy fun - candles, electric guitar & all; "Masquerade" still has fab costumes; even the chintzy fireballs in the Peros scene are kind of cool. ("More deception? More violence?") My favorite surprise, from the first time I saw it, was the ballet rehearsal during "Angel of Music." It's a tedious little song so I love the distraction, particularly since it's the highly stylized ballet girls, with their stiff little skirts and massive wigs. More importantly, the juxtaposition shows you that something's always going on in the opera house - people are always rehearsing, or singing, or changing, or running around in the shadows. It's like a giant haunted house. ("Your face, Christine, it's white!")

Last night's singing was magnificent, too. The wonderfully named Marie Danvers was a sweet Christine, and that's a tough role - she's onstage 90 percent of the time. I always want Christine to get a little angrier at the Phantom toward the end, though. Raoul was fine with his big white scarf. I like my Phantom a little less gaspy and blustery than last night's guy (someone Mauer?), but when he chose to sing quietly, he was hypnotic. And his big emotional moments ("all that the Phantom asked of you") were properly gripping.

My problems were mostly with pacing and staging. This may be Prince's fault too, but both death scenes happen too quickly. There needs to be more light and more focus on the bodies of Buquet and Piangi, because you have GOT to react to them with horror. It's great on the soundtrack, because you hear the music and the screams. Onstage, by the time the screams start, the corpses have flashed out of sight. My gentleman-caller didn't even realize someone had been hanged at the end of Act I. Buquet looks like a sandbag. I mean, that's not good. You need to see why Christine's afraid.

I had major issues with The Point of No Return. I have never seen this staged the way I like, which makes me mad, because it's logical, obvious and not hard. The Phantom quietly murders the star tenor just offstage, and takes his place in a scene with Christine. At the first sound of his voice, Christine needs to freeze. The song's first half requires her to do nothing but sit and listen. She should be thinking about what to do and be horrified at the intensity of his words (yet, of course, hypnotized by his magnetic voice). By her half of the duet, she's decided the best strategy is to play along for now. When they sing together, you should be in an agony of suspense - what is she going to do? Are the police going to open fire or what? Last night, they had the Phantom come out with a hood over his face, and when he pulls it back after the duet, THEN everyone acts all surprised. When the characters all know him by his voice, Christine most of all, that just doesn't work. It's idiotic.

Oh well. It was still fine. I loved the staging of "All I Ask of You"; it's a welcome moment of repose, and the Phantom's sorrow and rage were both properly overwhelming. And the ending was nice. His disappearance is well done - I like him vanishing from under the cape as you watch. (The first one I saw had him just sit in the chair, and then the lights in that corner went out - you could almost see him jump offstage. It didn't work.) Carlotta and Piangi were good, and David (?) Cryer was a fab Firmin. He sang clearly and gave his good lines ("Written!") the perfect touch of dryness. I loved when he held his hand up to his mouth during the "chorus girl who's gone and slept with the patron" bit. Even though nobody can understand that line.

Longest post ever?

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