in spirited production
A new production of Broadway’s number two grossing musical of all time
By Byron Toben
Evenko and Broadway Across Canada have regularly teamed up to bring Montreal audiences some top touring runs of high grossing Broadway musicals, a number of which I have reviewed here, such as all time highest The Lion King.
Currently playing is the number two all time, The Phantom of the Opera.
This is a new production of the show by Cameron Mackintosh, who in producing many all time hits (Les Misérables, Cats) has acquired ownership of eight London theatres and has 22 productions running around the world.
Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (Cats, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar) also owns seven London theatres to match his 7 Tonys and 7 Oliviers.
I have a feeling of kinship with Gaston Leroux, the original author of the novel on which this work is based, as he was also a legally trained person who later turned to journalism and theatre criticism. Phantom (1910) was one of 40 novels he churned out, including nine with detective heroes, parallel to Arthur Conan Doyle in the UK and Edgar Allan Poe in the US. He also managed to pen one play Le Lys.
I had never seen the original Phantom, which opened on Broadway in 1988, nor the 1924 silent movie of the story (with Lon Chaney Sr., fresh from portraying Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as the masked facially deformed Phantom), so I was perplexed by the prologue, which opens in 1911 with an auction of items from the closing of the then Paris Opera house.
Viscount Raoul (Jordan Craig) bids on an antique monkey shaped music box. Not exactly the typical lively opening number until the scene shifts to Act One set decades earlier during a dress rehearsal of Hannibal, replete with North African archers and songs led by the Opera’s prima donna lead, Carlotta (Trista Moldovan).
In an eerie descent down a huge winding staircase into his lair below the Opera through a foggy river, he fools Christine into pretending that he is an angel protecting her beloved late violinist father.
By the way, historically there was a prison below the Opera House to hold rebels of the Communes in 1848.
The rest of the play, besides the conflict between Raoul and the Phantom over Christine, shows off the huge 52-person cast, counting extras and musicians to full effect, introducing lots of intricate choreography in Il Mundo and Don Juan Triumphant and generating popular singles like The Music of the Night, All I Ask of You and Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.
Lots of neat theatrical tricks like the Phantom’s ability to cast fireballs with his fingers or crash a chandelier.
Oh yeah, the phantom owned that monkey music box and by 1910, Christine, forced to listen to it, had passed away.
The Phantom of the Opera continues at the Place des Arts until October 15.
Images: Matthew Murphy
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Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.