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Toronto by Antonio Tan

Two Phantoms and a Dralion

The Phantom of the Opera

"The End of An Era" is the catch phrase employed in the marketing scheme for the final few weeks of The Phantom of the Opera in Toronto. The phrase most obviously refers to the 10 year triumphant run of Phantom, but also tacitly implies the end of another era – the end of Livent’s reign as North America’s leading theatrical producer.

As keen theatregoers should know, Livent is the Canadian theatrical company that churned out a parade of hit shows (among them including Ragtime, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Fosse), and built up an empire of theatres – all within the past decade. The company, now bankrupt (we won’t go into details here), opened with Phantom on September 20, 1989. And on September 26, 1999, when the Phantom sings "It’s over now, the music of the night" for the final time, so will Livent: most of its assets will be turned over to its new owner, SFX Entertainment, and basically, the company will then be operating under a different name.

So it’s no big surprise here that Livent is intending to go out with a major splash.

Not only has the city been plastered with "The End of An Era" posters, but Phantom has been the word on everybody’s lips the past few months when three guest stars stepped into the role of The Phantom: René Simard, Paul Stanley and Jeff Hyslop.

I was able to catch the final two stars this summer – most recently Jeff Hyslop on his August 11th opening night, and Paul Stanley on a Friday evening performance in July.

Paul Stanley as The
Phantom"Paul Stanley!" you say?

Yes, Paul Stanley.

You know ... the lead singer of the legendary 70s rock band, KISS? The one with the black star on his eye (hence the name, Star Child)?

It was hard to imagine Paul Stanley making the leap from rock ‘n roll to musical theatre, especially when both forms of music are entirely different from each other. Heck, it was even harder imagining him in the Phantom makeup!

When Paul Stanley was announced for the May 25 to August 1 block of performances, the media printed front-page stories, cynics came out of their hiding, ticket sales went through the roof, and the KISS fans flocked to Toronto.

Paul Stanley certainly brought the KISS fans into the theatre. And they certainly were not very hard to spot – all you had to do was look around, and you would see a dozen or so long-haired rockers filing past you. But if they didn’t look like a KISS fan, you would’ve spotted them during "Music of the Night" – they were the ones swaying the lit cigarette lighters in the air.

Obviously, KISS fans seemed to love Mr. Stanley as The Phantom. But with all rationalizations aside, Paul Stanley was nothing to sway your lit cigarette lighter for. At best, Stanley gave an inept performance as the disfigured man behind the mask. And inconsistencies in his performance - both vocal and dramatic - were often the blame for a rather weak portrayal.

Although displaying a wide vocal range, Paul Stanley ultimately didn’t have the sweet, hypnotic voice of a Michael Crawford, or the charismatic Irish tenor of a Colm Wilkinson. Possessing a hoarse and raspy voice, he often sang shakily and was constantly unpleasant to listen to. Vocal delivery was also skimpy on certain phrases and notes (such as the final note in the Finale).

In the dramatic department, his acting (or lack thereof) was mostly uncertain with rigid movements, and an awkward delivery failed to convey much emotion. If anything, it was this limited acting ability that made for an unconvincing Phantom, rather than a less-than-appealing and generally weak singing voice. More often, he seemed to be concentrating on hitting the high notes while trying to act at the same time.

But Paul Stanley did have some strong moments. In the second act's graveyard scene, he showed a glimmer of bravado in the song "Wandering Child," in which he picked up momentum and sang with a large dose of passion. But for the rest of the evening, Mr. Stanley's performance was as unimpressive as his "Music of the Night" in the first act, in which his aching voice showed wear-and-tear from the demanding Andrew Lloyd Webber score.

Wisely (and fortunately), Livent did not decide to close The Phantom of the Opera with a performer whose talents in the role were uncertain back at his January audition, and elected to have a Phantom veteran, and - more importantly - a Canadian play the title role for the final eight weeks.

Jeff Hyslop was the original Phantom in the Canadian national tour in 1991, and guest-starred in the Toronto production in 1992 when original Toronto Phantom, Colm Wilkinson, went on his annual summer hiatus. He is best known to Broadway audiences as Tony winner Brent Carver’s successor in the London and Broadway productions of Kiss of the Spider Woman, opposite Bebe Neuwirth and Chita Rivera. But Mr. Hyslop is most famous for his role as Jeff The Mannequin on a popular children’s television show called "Today’s Special," which continues to play on television to this day. In it, he displayed his singing, acting, and dancing talents as the goofy mannequin who comes to life every time his red-checkered hat is put on his head.

Mr. Hyslop, who returned to the role this past August 11th, gives a fine-tuned performance as The Phantom, using his dance training with great effect to create a graceful and physically charged portrayal. His tenor voice is powerful and consistent throughout the performance, and is relaxed and perfectly controlled when singing the high notes.

But what makes Mr. Hyslop’s Phantom interesting is that, while other Toronto Phantoms have portrayed the role as a tortured soul who deeply loves and wants the best for the singer Christine Daaé, Mr. Hyslop decides to put in a little twist. His Phantom seems sane at first, especially when he seduces and hypnotizes Christine in "Music of the Night." But when she unmasks him in the next scene, his demented movements and sloth-like slide across the stage begin to show what direction his portrayal is going.

Mr. Hyslop’s decision to play it up as an insane, or psychopathic, Phantom works, but towards the end, when he sings "Christine, I love you," it is anything but honest. Where sympathy should have been generated, there is only pity for the psycopathic Phantom which Jeff Hyslop plays. It's the only blemish in an otherwise superbly developed portrayal.

The show, after all these years, still remains a guilty pleasure of mine (as well as many other regular theatregoers'), despite its superficial, yet memorably romantic, score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and its banal book and lyrics by Richard Stilgoe and Charles Hart. Harold Prince covers that all up with flowing, cinematic staging, complete with dazzling special effects and eye-popping sets and costumes by Maria Bjornson.

The quality of the production itself is, remarkably, still in top form, with fresh performances from a first-rate cast. Melissa Dye (Evelyn Nesbit in the national tour of Ragtime) is Christine, and Laird Mackintosh is Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny. Kim Stengel and Brent Weber are the demented lead opera stars, Carlotta and Piangi, while Terry Hodges and Paul Mulloy are the comical Opera House Managers. Kristina Marie Guiget, one of the only original Canadian cast members left in the production, continues on as Madame Giry, the ballet mistress, while Catriona Ferguson plays Christine’s friend, Meg Giry.

And the chandelier?

It’s as threatening as ever.

Phantom Trivia
Did you know that Canadian actress Neve Campbell ("Party of Five" and "Scream") was in the ballet chorus of the original Toronto cast of The Phantom of the Opera before she became a famous movie and TV star?

The Phantom of the Opera
September 12, 1989 - September 26, 1999
Canadian Premiere: September 20, 1989
Pantages Theatre, 244 Victoria Street
(416) 872-2222



Where the traditional circus ring would be, there is a stage.

In the place of a ringmaster is a singer who appears throughout the show as a narrator or guide.

The menagerie of lions, tigers, and bears... and also elephants? It is non-existent here.

The approach? Only that of the highest artistic standards.

Cirque du Soleil.

Saying those three words to almost any Canadian generates a buzz. And ever since Cirque went global and became an overnight sensation, they now generate a sense of pride as well. With productions running in North America and Europe (with permanent productions running in Las Vegas and at Walt Disney World in Florida), it’s no wonder all eyes are set on Cirque du Soleil.

If you’re one of the few who still have no idea what Cirque du Soleil is, an attempt to exactly explain it and its shows would only come up short. But in one sentence, I have always described Cirque du Soleil as a troupe that has theatricalized, revolutionized, or reinvented, the circus.

Audiences don’t flock to Cirque du Soleil expecting to see a circus – they come expecting to see a theatrical performance that transcends the boundaries of the imagination.

And now, Cirque du Soleil is back with another show that successfully transcends the boundaries of the imagination: Dralion.

Dralion In Dralion, the thirteenth show from Cirque du Soleil, East meets West in an Oriental-flavoured production complete with 54 artists from ten different countries, with a troupe of 35 Chinese acrobats. The word Dralion, of course, is made up of the words Dragon and Lion – the words blended together, just as Cirque du Soleil decided to blend the traditional Chinese dragon and lion dances together in one of the show’s outstanding acts.

Arriving at the Cirque du Soleil tent half an hour prior to curtain, early audience members will have discovered that the show really starts twenty minutes before the scheduled curtain time - the clowns (without the usually frightening and traumatic circus clown makeup ... well, at least it was traumatic for me) start "terrorizing" the audience.

The actual show starts promptly at the set curtain time with a bare circular stage with large white sheets covering the rear. Sparks fly, the sheets fall, and a futuristic-looking metal wall is revealed. The stage is flooded with fog, and children with Chinese lanterns emerge from beneath the stage as urgent music fills the air. It’s a surreal picture that immediately propels the audience into Dralion’s dreamlike world complete with acrobats, mystical characters, and of course, the clowns who bring us back to reality throughout the course of the performance.

Typical circus acts and Chinese circus traditions are mixed into the thrilling program of Dralion. Tumbling acrobats, wireless trapeze dancers and artists leaping on stilts perform on a relatively small stage within a few feet of the audience. But while you’ve seen a lot of the tricks done in Dralion before (perhaps at a circus), the difference is that Cirque du Soleil does it with style :

Where a regular circus juggler would jump on stage and merely juggle, Dralion’s Viktor Kee first makes a dramatic entrance by leaping out of a giant beetle. And while he does what he’s supposed to do, he doesn’t just stand there and let the seven juggling balls fall only into his hands. Nope - the juggling balls move down his back, down his arm, up his neck, on his nose  - while leaping, somersaulting, and maintaining a graceful, balletic motion in synch with the up-tempo music.

And while an aerial pas de deux would normally be done with wires holding the airborne acrobats afloat, the only support that the Dralion pas de deux aerial performers have is a long, flowing blue silk sash, in which the couple entangles themselves in to ensure they don’t fall.

The music - from soft, airy melodies to high-energy, pulsating rhythms - is a fusion of Eastern and Western sounds inspired by Indian melodies, and the sounds of Andalusian, African, Central European and Western instruments. The fantasy world created by the music is heightened by the vocalist of the show, Erik Karol, as the L’Âme Force, who sings undecipherable lyrics, and whose vocal style is that of both a man and woman.

As for the design of the show, it is nothing less than eye-popping. The lighting is expert, the choreography is fluid and energetic, the metallic set design is awesome, and the costumes are vibrant and colorful, often taking on different shades with the lighting.

Audiences will be swept up in the mystical atmosphere of Dralion as they are bombarded with poignant images of grace and beauty, pulsating rhythms, extravagant designs, and the excitement of the acrobatics expertly created and designed by Cirque du Soleil.


Do not miss.

Dralion, Cirque du Soleil
July 29 - September 5, 1999
Ontario Place, 955 Lake Shore Blvd. West
(416) 861-1017 or 1-800-361-4595

Antonio Tan
For what's playing in Toronto, visit On Stage Toronto

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