How does one introduce “The Phantom of the Opera”?
It’s a cultural juggernaut; it’s ubiquitous – and it’s been reimagined.
In some incarnation, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” has been around for what seems forever: With more than 10,000 performances spanning more than 25 years, it’s the longest running show on Broadway, and it’s been playing in London for a few years more.
But though the production that came to Columbus Friday night shared a name with Lloyd Weber’s magnum opus, it was, in many ways, billed as a different show.
The story is the same: A malformed musical prodigy, the show’s namesake (played by Cooper Gordin), has fallen in love with Christine (Julia Udine), the daughter of an old violinist; as he teaches her to sing, he competes for her affections with Raoul (Ben Jacoby), the Vicomte de Chagny and her childhood friend.
Where the new production was to be set apart, rather, was in everything else – its staging, its scenery, its choreography, its tone, its et cetera.
In some ways, it failed. There were nuances, but it’s hard to appreciably reinvent a show that’s been put on so many thousand times.
The Phantom, long portrayed as truly loving Christine’s music more than her, is instead cast here with more overtly sensual obsessions. As a foil, virtuous, gallant Raoul is more naïve than ever – he never connects with Christine’s more carnal passions, and he never realizes his failure to do so.
The struggle between the two men isn’t new: It’s a key element of the work’s plot. The dichotomy between the darkness of The Phantom and the safety of Raoul has been well established (often ham-handedly) over the past quarter decade.
The new Phantom seems a bit more human and Christine’s feelings toward him more understandable, but in sum, the difference in characterization is negligible.
And many of the changes made were similar — interesting tweaks, but nothing so bold as to definitively outshine the conventional.
Where the new production really set itself apart, rather, was in the reimagined staging and scenic design.
Intricately designed colossuses glided and twirled across the stage, folding and contorting to continuously reveal new tricks, all with a grace unmatched by the human performers.
Perhaps it isn’t fair to expect the performers to match the technical exactness of inanimate objects.
But in the new production, the set didn’t seem as an inanimate object; rather, it came to life and was, in many ways, the star of the show.
At some point, it usurped the story. I didn’t care who Christine chose. I just wanted to see what next surprise the set had to offer. Unfortunately, the cast and chorus couldn’t consistently put on well enough to match the magnificence of the scenes.
That’s not to say that anyone gave a lousy performance. Each did a passable job, and the show would have been enjoyable regardless of the scenery. But no one reached phenomenal.
Maybe I’m alone in this thinking, though: The cast received a standing ovation, and the stars were met with loud whoops and cheers as they bowed.
Regardless, “The Phantom of the Opera” has earned the longevity it has enjoyed, and this latest rendition, though nothing as excellent as it was hyped to be, is still worth seeing.
The show runs at the Ohio Theatre, located at 39 E. State St., through March 16. Tickets start at $48 and are available through the CAPA Ticket Center and through Ticketmaster.
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