The Phantom Of The Opera at the Orpheum Theatre

Mark Campbell and Julia Udine in The Phantom Of The Opera.  Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Mark Campbell and Julia Udine in The Phantom Of The Opera. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The Phantom Of The Opera (playing at the Orpheum through Jan 5) has become an international phenomenon.  It opened in London and on Broadway in the late 1980s and is still running, having racked up more than 10,000 perfs.  Dozens of production grace the stages of the world (Las Vegas, Tokyo, Paris, et al).  There are touring productions galore, amateur productions.  According to  always-reliable Wikipedia, the play has grossed 5.6 billion-with-a-B dollars.

So who am I, shy and mild-mannered theater reviewer, to say The Phantom nay?  To elucidate the static and stodgy music, the derivative (down, Puccini, down) and repetitive drama.  I won’t do it.  You don’t want me to and, frankly, I lack the intestinal fortitude.

So I’ll point out the show’s strengths, of which there are (and I was surprised about this), many.  The Phantom‘s creators – composer Sir (or is it Lord?) Andrew Lloyd Webber, Big Kahuna producer Cameron Mackintosh, bookists Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, the expert design team too numerous to mention by name, the orchestrators, the choreographer, director Laurence Connor – have truly outdone themselves.  This Phantom proceeds with muscular self-assurance.  It’s chock-full of talent – and passion, genuine passion.

The story, of the nameless Phantom’s obsession with the musical marvel Christine, his flowery but lonely life in the lower depths of the opera, his need for music, for fiery candelabras and thunderous organs (the musical kind), his need for love, his fanatical jealousy, his night-time haunting of Parisian cemeteries, all this really and truly works.

The descent into the Phantom’s ghostly lair thrills.  He takes Christine by the hand, leads her into the mirror (wow!), down the a set of magical steps (really), down to a gondola upon which they cross a mysterious fog-shrouded lake (I initially thought we were in the Paris sewers; how wrong I was).  They enter the Phantom’s candlelit quarters, filled with velvet tapestries and a large bed.  All this accompanied by pulsing Webber-at-his best music.  Boffo.

Other outstanding effects include: the scene in the Père Lachaise cemetery in which the Phantom spies on, then confronts Christine and her lover Raoul; the way set turns and flows seamlessly into the 19th century opera house; the exploding chandelier.

And, saving the best for last, the performances.  Everyone is great.  As the mysterious Mme. Giry, Linda Balgord, dressed in black, carrying a smoky candle (and doing a terrific Judith Anderson) forces you to pay strict attention.  The three leads – Julia Udine as Christine, Ben Jacoby as her beloved Raoul and, best of all, Mark Campbell as the Phantom with a gorgeously soaring tenor – are to a person marvelous.  The show doesn’t require much acting, but as singers these artists provide endless pleasure.  They fill the Orpheum with ease.  Every song excites.

This The Phantom Of The Opera is advertised as a “new production.”  I can’t speak to this, never having seen the show before, but I would offer the opinion that there is enough intensity and pure talent at work here to make reseeing the show well worthwhile.  And if you’ve never partaken of The Phantom, by all means, spend the dough and go.  You’ll be happy.

For more info about John Olive, please visit his website.

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