The Phantom Spectacle
As Broadway's longest-running, biggest-selling musical, The Phantom of the Opera has a lot to live up to. Amongst its many accolades are the esteemed Tony Awards for Best Musical, Director, Costumes, Sets and Lighting. After watching it performed onstage in front of you, though, you know why. The Phantom's return to Singapore shores 12 years after its last showing at Kallang Theatre finds a bigger theatre and audience to accommodate its bigger budget and talent and, this time round, I found the preview performance of The Phantom at the Esplanade Theatre to be an nearly immaculate performance and a phenomenal feast for the senses: the eyes, ears and the heart.
The Phantom's 8000 performances over the years have garnered worldwide audiences amounting to no less than 80 million. Why has it been so well received? Is it because of its tale of romance - mistaken or true - that we find the heart to forgive and forget the common criticism that it is just over-the-top melodrama at its best? Is it the acclaimed musical score of leitmotifs and high expression of emotion that mask the commercialism of this Spectacular Spectacular - the employment for over 100 extras and crew to build revolving staircase sets and design puffy ballroom gowns?
Well, it has to do with all of these - the story with its different
varieties of love, the moving characters, the high drama, even the revolving
staircase sets and puffy gowns have their part to play. The appeal of
The Phantom lies in its grandeur and the epic scale on which
heroic gestures are performed. Every gesture acted is calculated to
contribute to the resplendence onstage as the plot unfolds.
Christine escapes and eventually confides in Raoul that all she asks
of him is to love her and both exchange promises of everlasting romance.
The Phantom who overhears them appears high above in an overhanging
gargoyle statue and, in that perilous and pitiful moment, your heart
flies out to him as he stands, teetering on the edge, held by mere wire.
Needless to say, a dramatic but inconclusive battle ensues between Raoul
and the spurned Phantom who flees. A final trap is then set to lure
the Phantom out but he is a phantom for a reason; he evades capture
and does some capturing of his own, threatening Christine with Raoul's
life should she not return his love.
But disappear from my mind is the last thing the Phantom will do; Brad Little ensured that. There was nothing little about his performance; he upped the play a notch with his immense stage presence. His fluid emotional transitions from enraged outcast to pitiful unfortunate soul and his ability to charm his way into your mind and heart despite his abhorrent actions were also key to his successful performance. Little and his touch of Broadway magic will inevitably appear in your fondest memories of this musical; his portrayal of the Phantom will haunt me for a long time to come.
Delivering a less magical performance, Rebecca Pitcher was a functional but, unfortunately, forgettable Christine Daae. Her emotional depth was wanting, and though she played her leading role appropriately, she failed to supply her own unique take on the character that will differentiate her from the past and to-be Christines. It will be hard to think of her when looking back on this performance. John Bowles who played Christine's love interest probably will think of her though, considering the healthy level of chemistry between them that kept their romance believable, even if it was not earth-shattering. On his own however, he could not hold the fort for long, especially with the outstanding acting by other cast members (such as Jackie Rees playing Madame Giry as a fully fleshed out and nuanced character) overshadowing his average performance. Similarly, actress / dancer Nadia Komazec as Giry's daughter Meg, disappointed. All you leave with after the show is a faint recollection of a honey-voiced dancer with disquieting ballet-possessed feet which kept repositioning themselves in various ballet steps as she spoke.
A large part of The Phantom's great appeal, of course, lies in its repertoire of some of Andrew Lloyd Webber's best and most sublime melodies. Despite its dated composition and truly retro execution - recall the electronic disco beat that drives the song The Phantom of the Opera - the music retains its edge and emotive ability to heighten the drama. The conventional top picks off The Phantom's soundtrack Angel of Music, The Music of the Night and All I Ask of You need no more promotion than they have received. If the criteria for choosing was Best Emoted Without Shattering Glass though, Think of Me and Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again would be my picks for the night (having said that, Masquerade and Prima Donna are the best if you did want a glass-shattering time).
To enjoy The Phantom in all its glory, go to the theatre with
an appetite for spectacle, big sets, big costumes, even bigger voices
and a big heart. The Phantom is a dose of true Broadway magic
(I'm still trying to figure out how a giant staircase managed to appear
miraculously onstage in one scene), the ingredients of which must come
in generous proportions for it to be the huge success it is. Should
one refuse to experience this opera based on the conviction that it
puts extravaganza before credibility and hype above subtlety, it would
be one's loss.
Ratings out of 5, based on
Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent /