Phantom as Numinous as Ever
There’s something as deep as the ocean about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. It has a way of dividing audiences into the camps of ‘hate it’ or ‘love it’, like a Terrence Malick film. It may seem like an odd comparison to most people but hold on. To experience Phantom is to be immediately transported and submerged into its dark neo-gothic world of grand opera, authoritarianism, obsession that calls itself ‘love’, how the cult of beauty objectifies both men and women, and unclosured grief for dead fathers. With a Malick masterpiece like Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, or The Tree of Life one is transported and submerged immediately into existential voids that reflect the desperate world of itinerant un/employment a century ago, World War II in its ghastly form as opposed to its glorious form, and the tragic impossibility of a father/son relationship in mid-20th century Waco. To point: right from the get-go you’re sent down the rabbit-hole. Therefore, some do and some don’t relate to it. It doesn’t make you lesser for not being able to relate to it. It’s just there are some who do and some who don’t.
The newly minted revamped version of the most popular show in Broadway history is scaled down but 21 trucks are necessary to transport it on its tour. So it is still one amazingly spectacular production, perhaps even more reminiscent in design to classic horror films of the 1930s than it was before. Though when I realized that the candle lit lake scene was not a part of Laurence Connor’s new staging I felt disappointment. But it didn’t matter. I had forgotten about it as the show spiraled toward its macabre conclusion. It just didn’t matter. The Phantom had me in his clutches.
That spectral ’30s look owes much to Paul Brown’s set design and Paul Constable’s lighting. Though some may gripe that certain effects, such as steps that come out of a wall just in time for actors to walk down them, are kitschy, I say they add splendidly to the surreal undercurrent. But be clear, the ’30s look is what frames this clearly neo-gothic tale set in the 19th century.
Of course, it’s the voices and period portrayals that make or break a show like Phantom and at the Orpheum they’re all full, vibrant, lush, and beautiful. 20-year-old Julia Udine astounds as protagonist Christine whose youthful beauty and gifted voice makes her the coveted target of the Phantom, magnificently sung and embodied by Mark Campbell.
Whatever you thought of Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard which played the Orpheum in the 1990s you had to have given top credit to the superb Linda Balgord who played Norma Desmond to perfection back then. Well, she’s back in this production as ballet mistress Madame Giry – a perfect manifestation of domineering control and steeliness that typify the Victorian century. She looks and sounds as great as ever!
Choreographer Scott Ambler has paid scrupulous attention to 19th century theater dance and it adds incalculably to the power this production has in transporting us back to then. The same can be said of Maria Bjornson’s sumptuous costumes.
The Phantom of the Opera
Through Jan. 5
Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av., Mpls.