Thursday, November 01, 2007

Time to Make `Phantom' Go Poof

We saw the LONGEST RUNNING MUSICAL IN BROADWAY HISTORY! last night. Yes, on Halloween. It was pretty underwhelming. If anything was scary, it was how threadbare the whole enterprise looks these days. I feel an ounce or two of pity for any tourists who come to New York for the first time and see this show as their first musical and base their memories of Broadway off of it. This production is tired and should probably just disappear (Spoiler Alert!) like the Phantom does at the end. The special effects are eyepopping only in the sense that they blind you too often. And as for the famous falling chandelier? An NYTimes reviewer put it well when he wrote, "Musicals have opened and closed in the time it takes that chandelier to lumber to the floor." The theater itself doesn't look like it's been repaired or repainted much since the '80s when the show first opened. I couldn't shake the feeling of going into one of those seedy tourist traps in Niagara Falls or places with a similarly pitiful kitsch factor, the kind of attractions that subsist mostly on reputation and the promise of visitors being able to say they went there and did that.

Now I should probably note here that J.C. Superstar and Joseph have always left me cold and I walked out after the first act of Cats when I saw it live. That isn't to say I don't like Andrew Lloyd Webber's music. The guy's a great popular composer who's written tunes that will probably live on for many, many years. And almost all of the tunes in Phantom of the Opera were familiar to me without ever having seen it. (I used to play them from a book of sheet music for the clarinet when I was younger.) It was nice to see them sung on stage, but they weren't all that moving and the sound was poor. ALW's music, in recording and alternate performances, has attained a life that extends far beyond the professional theaters where his musicals are actually in production at any one time. So with grand orchestrations playing in the back of my head, I was kind of disappointed at the thin arrangements that surround the onstage singing. Maybe the actors were having an off night. Maybe the show is in the midst of a lackluster cast. Who knows? A part of me wondered what it would've been like to see it back in '88 when it opened with Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford. It must've had more of a spark back then. Now it's barely a glowing ember.

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