Monday, August 30, 2010

Theatre review: "The Phantom of the Opera" @ Benedum Center- 29th August 2010

What is called the “farewell tour” of the musical The Phantom of the Opera has taken over the stage of Benedum Center. The show itself has by no means died. It has been on Broadway since January 1988 and has been thriving even longer in London. The music is, as I’m sure you know, by Andrew Lloyd Webber who, when he created this, had already turned lead into gold with 10 creatures before such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph of the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, Evita and Cats. Needless to say, even if there are those of us who are not stunned by his melodic inventions, millions of theatre-goers have remained impressed.

As for this enduring hit, I imagine that if you’ve ever been interested in witnessing it, you’ve already done so, given its long life. So the question before the house could be: how does this visiting production stack up with others?

I’ve seen this musical several times before and, have always been impressed with how it looks. The production values of this version live up to expectations. Harold Prince’s original inventive staging remains vivid, while the sets, the costumes and the effects look as if no expense has been spared. Which may justify paying, at the high end, about $90 per ticket. As for the singing, requiring opera-quality voices, everything comes across with strength and skill, and Trista Moldovan’s as Christine vocalizes superbly. As for the interpretation of characters, almost everyone does a serviceable job, although, opening night, I found Tim Martin Gleason as The Phantom overly histrionic, as if playing melodrama, while everyone else didn’t.

I noticed several things this time which I don’t remember noticing before, which have little to with this specific production. For one thing, since I find most of the songs musically empty, I was delighted to hear, as if for the first time, that Webber wrote a wonderful septet waltz for the first act called “Prima Donna.” This cast sings it expertly. I was struck, though, by the shallowness of the orchestrations, which, if better, could have made the music sound richer. I also didn’t remember the simple-mindedness of the lyrics which could have become more interesting if trying to replicate the ornate speech of the period in which the story is set. And, while observing Webber sounding as if imitating standard bits by Verdi, Rossini, Gilbert and Sullivan etc. I was surprised to discover that Webber ventured into an appropriate, slight use of dissonance in scenes from the opera which The Phantom has written. The characters still seem underdeveloped, while too much time gets devoted to long pastiche opera scenes which move the story nowhere. You might want to know why so much happens the way it does. Or you might not care. I’d forgotten how little time and speech is given to the most interesting character of all, the Phantom. But if interested, you could pursue these lines of inquiry on-line on your own.

These are some questions which lurk in the shadows: (1) How and why is The Phantom the way he is, deformed, a brilliant creator of illusions and a long-term resident of those lower floors? (2) How and why is Madame Giry a seemingly sympathetic liaison between The Phantom and the Opera staff? (3) Who gets hanged by The Phantom and why? (4) Is The Masquerade sequence from an opera?

I imagine The Phantom of the Opera will never die. And there will always be people who find it fascinating theatre, which seems right. Too bad it gets bogged down in so many empty, pushy songs. And it is a musical after all.

It continues at Benedum Center through September 19th. 412/456-4800
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