“The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway: A Review
If you haven’t heard about “The Phantom of the Opera” then you probably lived on some very distant planet, because it is widely known on the closer ones. The 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux has turned into a global phenomenon and a franchise of its own and was adopted in more than ten films, three musical (we’ll get to that in a minute) a couple of songs (by Iron Maiden and Nightwish). Arguably the most successful amongst those is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical from 1986 with music by Mr. Webber and lyrics by Charles Hart. The book is by Richard Stilgoe and, yes, Andrew Lloyd Webber again. And if you want to treat yourself with this masterpiece you’d better check BroadwayPass for some tickets as soon as you can because they end up quickly!
The Lloyd Webber masterminded musical holds quite a few records on both Broadway and West End. The “Phantom” is the longest-running show on Broadway – it was first staged on 26 January 1988. Since then it was staged more than 13,000 times.
The prologue sets in 1911, thirty years after the main events of the play. Vicomte Raoul de Chagny returns to the Paris Opéra for an auction. When the staff unveils an old shattered chandelier, it re-assembles back together and ascends to the ceiling, hinting on the phantom’s mystical powers. And that he might still be around…
As it starts, we head back in time to 1881, where the cast prepares to stage a new production – “Hannibal” in front of the new Opera owners when the phantoms make his presence known by barely hitting Carlotta – the main prim donna with a backdrop, thus making her quit the play. Firmin and André are informed that a “well taught” chorus girl can take Carlotta’s role – Christine Daaé. As Christine sings her aria on the audition, she is recognized by her old childhood friend – Vicomte Raoul de Chagny. When they meet backstage she tells him about her “Angel of Music” sent by her late father that taught her to sing. We have barely started Act I and we have three major story arcs in motion – The Phantom’s affection for Christine, her renewed acquaintance with Raoul and the ignition with her rivalry with Carlotta.
But who is Christine’s mysterious “Angel”? In “The Phantom” we don’t have to wait long for the answers to come, as The Phantom himself approaches Christine. He addresses her through a mirror and takes her to his secret lair beneath the Opera. There he serenades her shows Christine an image of her in a wedding dress in a mirror. The image gestures and she passes out. Then the Phantom covers her with his cloak. After she takes his mask and sees his disfigured face she understands that The Phantom is not exactly an angel. The relations between Christine and The Phantom are complex. Was he guiding her all her life, up to the point where she joins the Opera? Was he “tutoring” her in some “magical” manner to make her worthy of singing his work? Was he a father figure – turned suitor? Those mysteries are just a small portion of all those that surround the Phantom.
As Christine unveils his disfigured face, The Phantom unveils his dark side, delivering ultimatums to Firmin and André that Christine must be in the leading role in “Il Muto”, to Raoul – to stay away from her, and to Carlotta – to decline the leading role. With all of them refused, The Phantom unleashes mayhem upon the audience, killing Joseph Buquet and making Carlotta sound “like a toad” for insulting Christine. She, on the other hand, escapes with Raoul to the roof where he vows to love her and keep her safe.
“The Phantom of the Opera” has a huge influence over pop culture, especially villains. We might say that The Phantom has created the stereotype of the typical masked villain thus fathering tens of modern (and beloved) villains. We can see him most notably in Star Wars’ Darth Vader – both of them are ruthless, disfigured, holding considerable loath for the rest of humanity. There are visible similarities between The Phantom and DC’s Batman, although they have different occupations with one being a villain and the other – anti-hero but still a protagonist. They, however, share technical brilliance, with both sharing the use of technology surpassing the current one of their time, by more than 100 years. There are similarities in their hideouts – dark, well-hidden caves where they give indulge in their activities.
Act II starts with The Phantom attending masquerade ball where he announces that he has written an opera – “Don Juan Triumphant” and that he wants Christine to be in the leading role. When he approaches her, he notices the engagement ring on her neck (she was secretly engaged to Raoul). Infuriated, he rips it off and disappears in a flash of light. Carlotta blames it all on Christine, while Raoul approaches Madame Giry with questions about The Phantom. She responds that he was a brilliant scholar, magician, inventor, architect, and composer. He was born with a horribly deformed face and for a long time was a part of a traveling fair. He ran away and found shelter under the Opera.
The love triangle between Christine, The Phantom and Raoul officially “completes” at her father’s grave where she goes to pray. The Phantom, under the guise of the Angel of Music, approaches her, but he’s confronted by Raoul. The Phantom hurls fireballs at him and declares war on both of them. “Don Juan Triumphant” premieres under serious police presence. Raoul plots to lure The Phantom and confront him. The Phantom appears under the disguise of Ubaldo Piangi who is in the leading role along with Christine, having murdered the real Piangi. He forces his wedding ring on her but she exposes his disfigured face to the audience. Then he drags her in his underground cave followed closely by Raoul. Down there The Phantom has Christine in a wedding dress. She confesses that she’s not afraid of his looks but of what’s inside of him. Raoul arrives and asks The Phantom for compassion, but The Phantom responds that the world has never shown him any and ensnares Raoul with his lasso. Then Christine gives the phantom a kiss and tells him a few words of kindness. The Phantom, experiencing kindness for the first time, release Raoul. As they leave the cave, Christine turns back to give The Phantom his ring. He swears his love one more time, but she leaves in tears. The Phantom returns to his throne and huddles beneath his cloak as the angry mob, chasing him for the deaths of Buquet and Piangi. Meg Giry reaches the cave first but finds only The Phantom’s mask under his cloak.
We may argue that The Phantom is no villainous in his roots. Born deformed, he was an object of mockery and hatred even by his parents who abandoned him like a baby in the fair, where he spent most of his life in a cage as an attraction. There, as a part of the freak show, he gathered only loath and hatred for mankind. We can only wonder if Christine was his first-person of romantic interest but we are sure that she is the first that showed some kindness.
The Phantom is considered by Giry to be, amongst all, a scholar, magician, and inventor. He might be employing such an advanced technology that it may seem like magic. The chandelier from the prologue, the way he communicates through mirrors, using them as screens, his fireballs and his multiple disappearances may all be a part of his inventions that have surpassed his time by far. Some of them can be considered cutting-edge technology even today. Then again, his powers can be supernatural and all can be magic.
For its thirty years on Broadway, “The Phantom of the Opera” has seen multiple cast changes, with Michael Crawford, Sarah Brightman, and Steve Barton being the original Phantom, Christine, and Raoul. Since then, there have been more than fifteen Phantoms, eight Raouls and more than ten ladies in Christine’s role. The original three are considered legends in their own right and are heavily responsible for the musical’s grand success. Michael Crawford won a Tony Award for his role as The Phantom in 1988 and Judy Kaye for a Featured role as Carlotta. Today we can see the brilliant Ben Crawford as the Phantom, the stunning Eryn LeCroy as Christine and the valiant John Riddle as Raoul. This trio had the hard task of filling the shoes of all those amazing actors before them, and they did an amazing job doing it.
“The Phantom of the Opera” has been nominated for ten Tony Awards in 1988, winning seven. Ironically, two of the three awards that escaped “The Phantom” are “Best Book of a Musical” and “Best Original Score” – both categories that had Andrew Lloyd Webber amongst the nominated. Despite this, some of the music pieces have become iconic and are considered to be amongst the best ever produced for Broadway or West End. The dark and powerful “Phantom of the Opera” by Sarah Brightman and Steve Harley reached #7 in the UK chart. The romantic “All I Ask of You” got covered by numerous artists including Lloyd Webber’s brother – Julian and “The Shadows”. It peaked at #24 in Australia and topped the charts in Ireland.
For thirty years, the “Majestic” is the home of “The Phantom”. Can another venue house so much love, anger and magic? We don’t know. Will the “Majestic” be this majestic without “The Phantom”? Definitely not.