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Revisiting Long Running Shows

We recently decided to send our critics back to revisit some of Broadway's long running hits. As the first in this series, Matthew Murray takes a look at the legendary Phantom.

The Phantom of the Opera

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - June, 2002

The Phantom of the Opera The Cameron Mackintosh/Really Useful Theatre Company, Inc. production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, directed by Harold Prince, opened on Broadway January 26, 1988 and played its 6,000th Broadway performance on June 13, 2002.
The current principal cast:
The Phantom of the Opera - Howard McGillin / Christine Daaé - Lisa Vroman / Christine Daaé (at certain performances) - Adrienne McEwan / Raoul - Michael Shawn Lewis / Carlotta Giudicelli - Rebecca Eichenberger / Monsieur André - George Lee Andrews / Monsieur Firmin - Jeff Keller / Madame Giry - Marilyn Caskey / Ubaldo Piangi - Larry Wayne Morbitt / Meg Giry - Joelle Gates
Theatre: Majestic Theatre, 247 West 44th Street
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Schedule: Monday through Saturday at 8 PM. Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM
Tickets: Tele-Charge

With the Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera just passing the 6,000 performance milestone (a feat achieved before it only by A Chorus Line, Les Miserables, and Cats), it seemed like an apt time to revisit the Majestic Theatre and see how this landmark musical production is holding up after almost fourteen and a half years.

I'm pleased to report that The Phantom of the Opera is holding up very well.

Let's face it, you can never forget the first time you saw The Phantom of the Opera. For most, this cast will not be their first. This cast is certainly not the original one, and they may not be the funniest, most dramatic, or best sung. But if it's been a while since you've seen the show, or if, by some chance, you have never seen it at all, this would be a great time to go.

This is due, in no small part, to Howard McGillin's performance as the Phantom. Possessing a rich, smooth voice across his entire range, he sings the role wonderfully, but it's his acting that sets him apart. He is at once refined and uncultured, demanding while nurturing. He seems to find every possible color in the Phantom's character. McGillin's Phantom is not solely a monster or entirely sympathetic; we're as tortured as he is, he does terrible things, yet he makes us love him. I've never seen an actor bring out the Phantom as well as McGillin does.

I'm unable to say anything about the primary billed Christine, Lisa Vroman, who was out at the performance I attended. However, her replacement, Adrienne McEwan (the alternate Christine who regularly performs Wednesday evenings and Saturday matinees) was so fine, it's difficult to imagine Vroman being better.

While McEwan's singing is fine - not flawless, perhaps, but strong and expressive - she also presented the most convincing Christine I have yet seen onstage and was, perhaps, the current production's most welcome surprise. From the show's opening moments, she seems like a young girl (perhaps not even twenty) thrown too quickly into horrifying circumstances for which she cannot possibly be prepared. The two men competing for her, the Phantom and Raoul (Michael Shawn Lewis), come across not as potential lovers, but potential fathers who want to guide her into the adult world. This gives her "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" a unique relevancy and a poignancy. Never has the song made more sense than when McEwan sings it.

The journey of McEwan's Christine is one unlike any other Christine I've seen. She's subtle and moving, yet capable of great power when confronting the tempestuous Carlotta or the darkly seductive Phantom, Christine is a child at the beginning and unqualified adult at the end. Were it not for McGillin's performance, the show would be hers, and McGillin has to fight her for control every step of the way. This back and forth gives the show a keen weight, grounding it when it needs it most.

For the most part, the rest of the cast is strong, if less revelatory. Jeff Keller and George Lee Andrews still make a funny and well-sung Andre and Firmin (though they may have switched roles since you last saw them), Rebecca Eichenberger gives a sharp comic performance (with some impressive vocals) as Carlotta, and David Gaschen, temporarily replacing Larry Wayne Morbitt at the performance I saw, does well by her paramour Piangi, the opera house's lead tenor.

Lewis's Raoul, is fine but mostly unexceptional, weakening the central love triangle more than he should. But the role still plays; Madame Giry and her daughter Meg are less lucky. Marilyn Caskey reads about twenty years too young and nice for the stern ballet mistress, and Gates's Meg has eagerness to spare, but no clear sense of what her relationship with Christine (or the Phantom) is.

With the exception of the famous act one chandelier effect, which perhaps no longer looks as impressive as it once did, Maria Bjornson's sets and costumes remain fresh and vibrant, and Andrew Bridge's lighting still sets the mood for the piece brilliantly. If you were a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber's music and Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe's lyrics before, you'll still find them smartly performed.

But, in the end, what more is there to say? With the passing of the era of British mega-musical, it would be all too easy for The Phantom of the Opera to feel like an anachronism, badly in need of repair. The audience when I saw the show proved that wasn't the case at all. They still gasp at the more surprising moments and applaud the Phantom's final sung lines in the show with all the gusto to be found at a freshly-opened Broadway hit.

The Phantom of the Opera still has it, and will no doubt continue to prove it for quite a while to come.

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