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‘The Phantom of the Opera,’ a must see that really makes you think

By Katie Decker-Jacoby

Section: Arts

September 29, 2017

“The Phantom of the Opera” is a Broadway classic, and it’s a classic for a reason. Whether or not you like opera music, “Phantom” is an absolute must see.

Personally, I am not a fan of the opera genre, yet somehow “The Phantom of the Opera” is my favorite musical. It has been since I was younger and it still is. This time around, the Boston Opera House was the perfect venue. Dating back to 1928, its red velvet panels, white and gray marble, crystal chandeliers, gold ceilings and European Baroque finishes were opulent, matching the vibe of the music being performed inside of it all throughout September.

Based on the 1910 horror novel by Gaston Leroux, “The Phantom of the Opera” tells the story of a troubled composer who haunts the Paris Opera House. The respected Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe wrote the show’s music together, and “Phantom” is Webber’s most acclaimed work to date.

The stunning Boston Opera House sets a lively mood for the rest of the evening, but the musical does start off slowly. The new opera house owners disobey all of the Phantom’s (Derrick Davis) orders, instead of supporting Carlotta (Trista Moldovan), the over-dramatic diva and lead of the opera house. Her shrill and boisterous voice definitely matches her obnoxious and haughty personality.

When Carlotta refuses to perform unless the owners get the Phantom to stop his scary antics, someone suggests Christine Daaé (Eva Tavares) temporarily replace Carlotta, as she apparently has an amazing teacher.

Lo and behold, her teacher is the Phantom of the Opera, a mysterious man who lives in a labyrinth in the cellars of the Paris Opera House. He is an ominous and ever-present spirit who, according to Madame Giry (Kristie Dale Sanders), was physically and emotionally abused as a young boy (hence the iconic white half-face mask). The Phantom has lived in the depths of the underground channels of Paris ever since.

Though he is a threat to the opera house, he is also the hidden force that keeps the opera house alive. He makes music and writes shows for the opera house, and he teaches Christine how to sing.

“The Phantom of the Opera” tells a story of passion, isolation, loss and the power of music. The Phantom wants Christine to be an obedient student but also yearns for her touch and affection. But Christine is infatuated with her childhood companion, Raoul (Jordan Craig). Raoul cannot wrap his head around the Phantom and Christine’s bizarre relationship; nobody really can.

Christine is trapped in the possession of a violent, frightening man. Although the Phantom has a tight grip on her emotions and actions, there is something sentimental about the Phantom that she cannot relinquish. She believes the Phantom is her angel of music, the one who sparked her own passion for music and ability to perform it and perform it well.

Christine, played by Tavares, never faltered. One moment she’d be belting powerful notes in her soprano voice and the next she’d be singing with the utmost fragile tone. One character who did fall short was Craig’s Raoul. His voice was shaky and just not an easy pill to swallow. His acting was solid, but the singing was a letdown.

Regardless, “The Phantom of the Opera” stands out from most of the other Broadway classics because its plot is so unique. It’s a storyline so distinct, odd, complex and, in some ways, troubling.

I’ve never had such a difficult time trying to sift through my feelings on a theater production. Why does this production have the longest shelf life on Broadway? Why does it captivate the attention of millions each year?

I think this is partially due to the Phantom’s enigmatic character. The Phantom is violent; he hangs a man, almost hangs Raoul right before Christine’s eyes and manhandles Christine. Yet for some reason, audience members are supposed to and do indeed sympathize with the Phantom.

We feel bad that he experienced such physical and mental trauma as a young boy and is unable to cope with this pain. We feel bad that he longs for love he won’t get with Christine, that he can never get what he wants.

The Phantom ultimately vanishes into thin air during a manhunt for him. He is unable to make more music. He is unable to feel accepted by society. And he is forever unable to be with Christine.

It sounds like one huge pity party for the Phantom, but again, why do we at times feel compelled to root for a character who killed a man and mistreats those he loves? All the emotions involved with this musical are strongly felt, but it feels wrong to commiserate with the Phantom. For that reason, “The Phantom of the Opera” is one of the best, if not the best, mainstream theater production out there.

Theater is changing. And “The Phantom of the Opera” has definitely changed since its inception on Broadway in 1988 (“Phantom” is the longest running Broadway show to date). Most notable is Davis, who plays the lead. Davis is the third African-American actor to take on the Phantom’s character. Of course, there are several other productions like “Hamilton,” “Kinky Boots” and “Dreamgirls” where the protagonists are played by incredible African-American actors, but this is a milestone in “The Phantom of the Opera’s” long history that is marked by traditionally Caucasian Phantoms.

If anything, you should experience this musical because of the score, sound effects and set. The score is the show’s most noteworthy feature. Especially when “The Phantom of the Opera” started playing in Act I, it was impossible to not get goosebumps. The organ was so menacing and impactful. The orchestra also threw in some electric guitar, making this number even more thrilling.

The sound effects made it seem like the Phantom was right behind you, whispering in your ear. At multiple points during the show, the Phantom’s eerie voice would murmur messages to those on stage. While he was not physically on stage, his haunting voice felt like it was following you. Audience members kept looking around the room to see if the Phantom was hiding in the curtains, waiting to surprise us all.

Set design additionally allowed audience members to immerse themselves into the story. Since this musical takes place in the Paris Opera House, the opera house set mimics the exact venue the audience sits in as they watch the show unfold. It’s an opera house within an opera house, which makes the show that much more engaging and relevant. The iconic and dazzling yet chilling and supernatural chandelier also hangs above audience members, even dropping down, shaking and malfunctioning when the wrath of the Phantom emerges.

All in all, “The Phantom of the Opera” is a theater production everyone should experience. The plot, characters, music, sound effects and set design will leave you craving more. What’s more is that “The Phantom of the Opera” makes you feel in ways you never thought were possible and awakens all of your senses to strange, unfamiliar ideas.

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