Monday, October 12, 2009

Stay Out of Box 5

My wife and daughter and I went to see “Phantom of the Opera” at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis last Saturday night.

It’s always an enjoyable show, and heartbreaking at the end. You’d need a stony heart not to be affected by the Phantom’s disappointment and despair.

I’m no music critic but there are awkward things in “Phantom” that always bother me. I heard the musical for the first time on cassettes and thought that maybe these awkward things were due to the removal of more theatrical aspects of the show from the recording, but that’s not the case.

“Phantom’s” title number is more “rock and roll” than anything else in the show, except the overture on which it’s based. I read somewhere that it was the first number written, but the subsequent show became more operatic. Also, the number “Think of Me” is supposed to be in an aria in the opera “Hannibal” but is completely different style than the other parts of the opera that we’ve heard; similarly “Point of No Return,” supposedly a duet from the Phantom’s otherwise modernistic “Don Juan Triumphant.” The fact that the musical contains operas requires some stylistic contrasts that are never quite pulled off.

The several numbers sung by the managers feature lyrics by Richard Stilgoe, who was an original lyricist but Lloyd Webber wanted less clever and more romantic lyrics. To me, the excellence of his lyrics stand out from the rest of the musical. Also, the whole first-act sequence from Carlotta storming out of the “Hannibal” rehearsals, to the first appearance of the Phantom in Christine’s mirror, seems clunky to me. For instance, did Raoul only recognize Christine when she sang “Think of Me” in the opera---a third act number?

Worst of all, there is no emotional build-up to the chandelier crash that ends Act 1. The crash is kind of squeezed-in among the remaining notes, after the Phantom has sworn revenge. The movie does the crash much better by placing it in Act 2.

Some of these things reflect the stages through which the composition of “Phantom” passed. But rather than stylistic contrasts that would enrich the show, they stand out (to me anyway) as Lloyd Webber’s failures to smooth out the show’s composition stages.

There.... now I feel better! Just a few mild complaints.

I hope my daughter doesn’t read this. She loves the show and has seen the movie several times and also several stage shows. The Fox production was certainly the best acted we've seen over the years; the Phantom was truly alluring and terrifying, and the other principles were excellent actors, too. I’m sure we’ll continue to see productions of the show into the indefinite future, until it stops touring like the wonderful Les Miz.

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