I’m always game for a good Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. Especially when my current relationship status prevents me from watching Games of Thrones. But Andrew Lloyd Weber and Cameron Mackintosh?
“It would be as if…” my voice trailed off as I tried to think of a way to make my dad understand the significance of the new Phantom of the Opera as we passed a billboard for the Kimmel Center production on the way to the train station. “As if two really good sports players got together and had a baby.”
Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of any “really good sports players,” let alone two, so my explanation was a bit lackluster.
“Who is Cameron Mackintosh anyway?” My dad asked.
“Are you serious? Who is Cameron Mackintosh? You are married to a Les Mis junkie, and you don’t know who Cameron Mackintosh is???”
(Seriously. My mom has seen Les Mis about a dozen times. In multiple cities and on multiple continents. She is obsessed.)
“You’d better not tell Mom you don’t know who Cameron Mackintosh is,” I concluded. “She’ll divorce you.”
As it stands, my mother isn’t the only one with a fanatical approach to musical theater. Phantom of the Opera was one of my first teenage obsessions. I was never great in ballet but upon learning that Sarah Brightman studied ballet before becoming a Broadway superstar, I figured I’d stick with it so that I could someday play the role of Christine Daaé.
I even prepared to sing “Think of Me” at an audition for community theater production of Sondheim’s Into the Woods when I was in 7th grade, only to realize, the night before, that I couldn’t actually hit any of the high notes (or any of the low notes, or any of the notes at all, come to think of it), so I made a last minute change to “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar. When the director sat me down after I finished singing and very tactfully asked me if I had, at the age of 12, ever actually been in love, I had to admit that I had not. He very kindly cast me as a step sister with a single line.
It was then that realized that the role of Christine Daaé might be a bit out of my reach. So I set my hopes on Meg Giry. She only had to be a sort-of-good-singer, and a sort-of-good-dancer, and I was taking both voice lessons and dance lessons at that point, plus I was becoming most excellent at quick costume changes, so I figured I had a chance.
Only my voice teacher never returned my call at the end of the summer when I rang to set up my next series of lessons for the fall. I was that bad.
I developed a sort of love/hate relationship with Phantom after that. And as intrigued as I was by the notion of a joint Weber/Mackintosh production, it wasn’t until I realized that they’d added Matthew Bourne into the mix that I finally decided I had to see this.
Matthew Bourne, for those of you who don’t know, did the 1995 version of Swan Lake that premiered at Sadler’s Wells in London and then went on to tour just about everywhere. It’s the version in which all of the swans, traditionally played by women, are played by men (it is also the version that’s featured in the last few minutes of Billy Elliot).
I never saw it live but I saw the film in grad school and I thought it was pretty much the coolest thing ever at the time. (Almost as cool as my Andrew Lloyd Weber piano book in high school.)
At any rate, I finally got myself over to the Academy of Music last night and Oh. My. God.
It was probably the best production of any Broadway play that I’ve ever seen, and definitely the most spectacular— both in the “amazing” sense and in the “spectacle” sense. And I do love me a good spectacle. (Just don’t tell Yvonne Rainer or any of the postmodern dance folks here in town).
The chandelier actually lit on fire, and when it crashed at the end of the first act, it crashed right on top of the audience, catching just a few feet above everyone’s heads. The set, designed by Paul Brown, was breathtaking and although I didn’t think you could possibly top the ramp (which, in the original production, hinges down the back of the stage when the Phantom first takes Christine down to his lair), I will say that cantilevered steps appearing out of nowhere are pretty darn amazing.
I can only imagine how many trailers it must take to get the production from one city to the next. With the cast and orchestra totaling 52, the new Phantom is one of the largest productions currently on tour, and in this case, bigger is definitely better. (Especially when we’re talking about 19th-century Paris. Make that opera in 19th-century Paris.)
Cooper Grodin, Julia Udine and Ben Jacoby made the story’s love triangle believable, especially in the second act when Grodin’s physicality began to show through. Jacquelynne Fontaine and Frank Viveros were hysterical as Carolotta Guidicelli and Ubaldo Piangi.
It was also nice to see former PA Ballet soloist Abigail Mentzer in a new role (she danced with the corps de ballet). And even though the costumes were all based on the original designs by Maria Björnson, they seemed somehow more historically accurate this time around (and yes, I’m always a stickler for such things). I felt like I was looking at a painting by Edgar Degas when the corps was backstage practicing, and all of the performance sequences seemed straight out of a nineteenth fashion plate, from the outlandish baroque sets to the gothic backdrop of the Phantom’s Don Juan Triumphant.
It was odd, seeing the show again as an adult. Having been in and out numerous times now, and with some rather Phantom-like fellows, I spent the majority of the show clenching my fists and trying not to shout, “Christine, you idiot! Just get with Raoul already and LEAVE! I know the Phantom is dark and romantic and all but he is CLEARLY a stalker. And no amount of talent is going to make up for the fact that he’s eventually going to show up at your house, unannounced and unwanted, giving you gifts you don’t want, sending you wacky letters, saying crazy things about your new man. You know he’s a crazy person. You know you can’t actually save him. You know you’re going to have the call the police eventually, right?” Which is exactly what happens… I could have told her that.
But she wouldn’t have listened.
(Then again we never do, do we?)
At any rate, you’ve got three days left to get yourself over to the Academy of Music if you want to see it. Which you should. (240 S. Broad; Information: 215-731-3333 or kimmelcenter.org/Broadway).