Think of it Fondly: The Phantom of the Opera Celebrates it’s 29th Anniversary on Broadway
The Phantom of the Opera never grows old. The enticing music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Charles Hart, retrace Gaston Leroux’s novel, making it a compelling show that endures through time, moving audiences and overwhelming them for the stupendous mise-en-scène.
January 26th 2017 marked an important anniversary for the New York production, since the show opened exactly on that same day in 1988, just a couple of years after London’s West End debut. It didn’t take long for the Great White Way’s Phantom (directed by theater legend Harold Prince and produced by Cameron Mackintosh and The Really Useful Group), to win seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The Pygmalion-esque masked figure who lurks beneath the catacombs of the Paris Opera House, exercising a reign of terror over all who inhabit it, is beguiling for audiences all over the globe. Whether you follow his story at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London or in one of the 160 cities in 35 countries, where it has been staged, you will be entrapped in this amaranthine tale. One cannot but feel sympathy for the way The Angel of Music hopelessly falls in love with the innocent young soprano, Christine, and devotes himself to creating a new star by nurturing her extraordinary talents and by employing all of the devious methods at his command.
Born hideously deformed and exploited by freak shows, the gifted opera composer and theatrical architect also conquered the screen in the course of time. The film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical was directed in 2004 by Joel Schumacher, starring Gerard Butler in the title role, Emmy Rossum as Christine, Patrick Wilson as Raoul and Minnie Driver as Carlotta. Even before talkies came along, the operatic mort vivant landed on the silver screen, starting with the 1925 silent film by Rupert Julian, all the way up to the 1998 adaptation directed by the Italian master of horrors, Dario Argento.
The 29th anniversary at The Majestic Theatre has glorified a long line of diversity casting in the New York production: Ali Ewoldt, was the first Asian-American to be cast in the role of Christine on Broadway and her co-star Jordan Donica was the first African-American to be cast in the role of Raoul on Broadway (although on January 26th the Vicomte de Chagny was played by the talented Kyle Barisich). Both follow a long line of diversity casting in the Big Apple production, including such notable leads as Broadway’s first Asian-American Phantom (Kevin Gray), African-American Phantom (Norm Lewis) and African-American Carlotta (Patricia Phillips).
Ali Ewoldt and James Barbour, as the titular character, bestowed such grace, voice talent and stage presence that they equalled, if not surpassed, the legendary Sarah Brightman-Michael Crawford stage couple. Just as enticing and engaging was the rest of the entire cast, which included Michele McConnell (Carlotta Giudicelli), John Easterlin (Ubaldo Piangi), Linda Balgord, (Madame Giry), Kara Klein (Meg Giry), Laird Mackintosh (Monsieur André), Craig Bennett (Monsieur Firmin).
Another forte of the production is the astounding design that was conceived by the late Maria Björnson, along with lighting by Andrew Bridge and sound design by Mick Potter with original sound by Martin Levan; along with the musical staging and choreography by Gillian Lynne, and orchestrations by David Cullen with maestro Andrew Lloyd Webber.
It won’t surprise to acknowledge that a staggering 140 million people have seen The Phantom of the Opera worldwide. This musical became the longest-running show in Broadway history in 2006, and has played a staggering 12,000 performances (as of November 2016), seen by 17 million people and grossed more than $1 billion.
The Opera Ghost’s story, that boasts innumerable adaptations and continues to thrive in contemporary storytelling, may not be a mere work of fiction by Monsieur Leroux. In the prologue of his 1911 book, the French writer claimed that The Phantom of the Opera really existed in flesh and blood and was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination. Furthermore the history of the luxurious Palais Garnier in Paris does include an opera ghost. The construction of the most famous opera house in the world began in 1861 and took nearly 15 years to complete, due to problems with groundwater in the cavernous basement. The creation of a huge cistern, to deal with the persistent moisture, gave rise to the legend that the opera house was built over an underground lake
As all great works of literature reality coalesced with artistic license, bequeathing to the world a timeless story about how nurturing mankind with hatred only leads to rancorous hostility. Accepting other people’s differences and overcoming prejudice is the message that conquers us all, when we see Christine Dae kissing the man behind the mask who has never felt human sympathy before.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s idyllic remolding of the story about Le Fantôme de l’Opéra truly allows you “Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams,” and “Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before.” Just as Little Lottie you will be entranced by The Music of the Night, while you “Let the dream begin.”