Lewis & Sierra Boggess photo by Matthew Murphy
On May 12,
2014 Norm Lewis made theater history by becoming became
the first African-American performer to play the title role on Broadway.
Sierra Boggess returned to the role that has won her acclaim in the London
and Broadway 25th Anniversaries.
As directed by Harold
Prince and produced by Cameron Mackintosh and The Really Useful Theatre
Company, Inc., Phantom claims to be the longest-running show in Broadway
history with revenues higher than any film or stage play in history. The New
York production has played an unprecedented 26 years and nearly 11,000
performances to 16 million people. It continues to play, with no end in
A trip back
to revisit this now 26 year old production is like a trip to musical theater
antiquity, not quite the rightly revered “Golden Age” (1940s to 1960s), but the ‘80’s, to see a master at the
top of his craft. Andrew Lloyd Webber has his own golden age introducing the
mega-musicals: Evita, Cats, Starlight Express, Sunset Boulevard.
contrast to our current standards; the pared down, acid laced, at times almost
atonal, lyric infused complex emotions of this era’s icon, Stephen Sondheim, Lloyd
Webber seems overstuffed at least, and at times ponderous, his huge lush,
orchestrations suffocating to those who breathe the air higher on the cultural
mountain, but of supreme comfort to those who can sit still, inhale deeply, and
succumb to the unabashedly unfettered melodrama and romanticism of the near past.
for those just visiting our planet, is based on the
classic novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra by Gaston Leroux and tells
the story of a masked figure (Mr. Lewis) who lurks beneath the catacombs of the
Paris Opera House, exercising a reign of terror over all who inhabit it.
He falls madly in love with an innocent young soprano, Christine (Ms. Boggess),
and devotes himself to creating a new star by nurturing her extraordinary
talents and by employing all of the devious methods at his command which include
the now infamous crashing of the chandelier into the audience and a variety of
the Brit pretty boy image of Michael Crawford and those handsome leading men
that followed here in the role – Lewis brings a sexually intense, almost menacing
persona – not lithe but stocky, his suit a bit crumply as it would be, buried
in his quarters in the Opera House sans sartorial benefit. He reeks of ego and
animalism rather than the cerebral intellect of a maniacal composer. The result
is that the seduction/hypnosis scene, in his gorgeous duet “The Music of the
Night” with Sierra Boggess (reunited since The Little Mermaid) seems more insistent, overpowering in this
version and every indication the magic of this opus still works.
To get a
fresh perspective I brought along my niece, who had never seen the show. Here
are her unedited remarks:
For a first
time viewer of Phantom, one gets hooked from the moment the chandelier
is revealed and the shot of light that is set off remains in your mind’s eye
throughout the first scenes. From the opening where first Christine’s true
talent is revealed, Sierra Boggess shines throughout the show. Reminiscent of
Belle in Beauty and the Beast, and with the same light in her eyes and
wonder in her heart, it is no wonder she was “hand-picked” for the 25th
anniversary edition by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself. Her range and powerful
voice remain strong throughout the musical, as does her passion for the role
and for her Angel of Music, both a love and a fear.
Norm Lewis, while remaining both behind the scenes and very much present
throughout “his” productions, lends a powerful force to the entire production.
His voice, besides a few shaky notes, was solid, and his emotions came through,
especially in the scenes with his muse. The infatuation he had with Christine was
very real, and her willingness to help him but horror once she saw the true
him, was evident from the instant his mask was removed. The two characters
played off each other beautifully, especially in the final scenes.
Giry, Ellen Harvey, maintained her character, always believing in and knowing
the truth about the Opera Ghost. One wonders what her relationship was with him
in a past life, but her strength and vulnerability shone through. She played
the part well, as did Raoul, played by Jeremy Hays, whose princely looks lent
itself to the role, and devotion to Christine was evident throughout. Comedic
operatic characters Michelle McConnell and Christian Sebek, playing Carlotta
and Ubaldo, sounded wonderful, and the acting of Laird Mackintosh as Monsieur
Andre and Tim Jerome as Monsieur Firmin, was greedily funny. Polly Baird,
playing Meg Giry, did not impress, besides acting in defense of her friend
Christine. Her voice did not conquer her scenes.
where the OG was communicating through notes to the staff of the opera were
difficult to follow, with at times five characters singing over each other,
became confusing to this viewer.
though, the performance was mind-blowing, and really stayed with you. Between
the costumes, the sets, the pyrotechnics, the moving pieces (gargoyles and
chandeliers) and the songs one has always known but never seen in action, the
night was pure magic. (Jenny Lieberman Moldow)
by Andrew Lloyd Webber, directed by Harold Prince. Lyrics by Charles
Hart (with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe), book is by Richard Stilgoe
and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Production design by the late
Maria Björnson, lighting by Andrew Bridge and sound design by Mick Potter with
original sound by Martin Levan. Musical staging and choreography is by
Gillian Lynne. Orchestrations are by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd
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