Review: "The Phantom Of The Opera" At The Pantages
Like its title character, “Phantom” covers up its defects ingeniously, but we must do like Christine in the final act and rip off that mask. Then, we can see “Phantom” for what it really is: one great big exemplification of the modern musical’s shameless endorsement of style over substance. We might also add: dramatically incoherent, romantically childish and thematically impoverished.
But wait, surely this can’t be. Everybody loves “Phantom.” You can’t see it without being stricken with a compulsive need to belt out “The Music of the Night” in the shower for the next month. This is very true, so what gives?
Everything becomes clear once “Phantom” fails to be seductive. This is, sad to say, the case with this production. It’s like starting off the show with a barefaced Phantom. Suddenly all the defects are on full display, with nothing on hand to hide behind.
It begins and ends with Webber’s score, the backbone of the show. Convincing enough as actors, Tim Martin Gleason as the Phantom, Trista Moldovan as Christine and Sean MacLaughlin as Raoul — each of them a corner of a disturbing love triangle — simply can’t carry it off.
Pitch isn’t the problem; the big notes are all spot-on. It’s vocal quality. In some respects, it’s a shame that Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford created these roles. Vocalists of a classless order, they made it impossible for these songs to be improved upon or reinterpreted.
Moldovan is the best of the group, but her soprano is breathy and too soft. Nonetheless, her “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” is easily the standout performance of the night.
Gleason’s and MacLaughlin’s voices are nearly indistinguishable — not surprising, since Gleason rose to fame playing Raoul, not the Phantom. MacLaughlin’s booming baritone seems ill-suited for the role and often overpowers Moldovan, with whom he generates barely-there chemistry. Gleason could be a lot more expressive.
The second act is a vast improvement over the first. In fact, the chilling final scene nearly redeems an otherwise bland production, which Kim Stengel as a scene-stealing Carlotta does her best to keep afloat.
There’s nothing to say about the set, lighting and costumes that hasn’t been said before. Yes, they’re perfect — but nothing more than masks for underlying problems.
But maybe, just maybe, Andrew Lloyd Webber is really playing us all for fools with this one. Maybe he set out to create something that plays into our collective weakness for outward appearances. As Christine is seduced by the Phantom, so too is the audience seduced by the show.
It’s certainly an attractive idea — but for it to work, the seduction needs to be effortless. No doubt, for many people, it is. But in this case, the final leg of the national tour, no such seduction takes place, leaving us staring blankly at the naked hull of this much-beloved but substanceless piece of spectacle.
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