Friday, December 09, 2005

Clunky but fun

So I just came back from seeing Phantom of the Opera. This is only the second time I've seen the show--the first being a trip to New York in high school in 1990 with my theatre group. Our seats were so high for that excursion, we were eye-level with the chandelier. Seriously.

It was a much better production than I remember. Or maybe I'm less jaded, or I understand better now. The tour is a little creaky, but much more intact than I expected it to be. The technical elements of the show are still impressive, if a bit creaky. The 9 second drop of the chandelier feels like an eternity. The prologue auction felt like it was in slo-mo. And I need to get a copy of Stilgoe and Webber's book of the musical and see if they have written into the show that "Meg Giry should be played in a robotic, monotone and completely unbeliveable way. And she should sing flat at every opportunity." That was the one similarity that struck me between the two productions I've seen--in both, Meg Giry had incredible pitch problems. The role can't be that hard to sing, can it? In this production, she was much more wooden and doll-like than she was in the first production I saw. Think a barn owl crossed with the ballerina on a music box and you'll get the idea.

I was most looking forward to hearing Kim Stengel sing the role of Carlotta, the diva soprano at the Paris Opera Populaire. According to her bio, Stengel has had lots of classical training and has sung on the concert stage as well as the musical theatre stage. She bills herself as a coloratura. In places, she was absolutely gorgeous--open clear to the top of her head, floating notes out, rising above the rest of the riffraff. Her acting was great as well. And hell, if she can move that well in a dress that weighs 35 lbs., power to her. There were parts where I thought she could have given more sound--like she was too light. And I was miffed that she had to be miked up. She could have held her own without a mic. In the septet, they miked her and then turned her volume way way down, which was a mistake. Overall, I enjoyed her performance and was not disappointed.

It was an absolute relief to hear Marie Danvers in the role of Christine Daae. I was so happy that she chose to interpret the role as her own, rather than rip off interpretations (or lack thereof) from Sarah Brightman's mediocre recording. Danvers was light when necessary, could rip the walls down in "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," and had chest to be reckoned with in the title song. Well done. I held my breath during "Think of Me," but Danvers didn't disappoint. She made the piece her own.

Gary Mauer did a nice job singing the Phantom as well. I was worried he would do it a la Michael Crawford, but he did so many things so much better than any other recording or performance I've heard of any of the pieces. He floated his falsetto beautifully; and during much of the show I wished that the sound designers would have let him sing without the stylistic reverb that indicates the halls of the opera house and the catacombs. He was intense without going over the top (except at the very end), and you believed him, which is so important. He had complete control over his dynamics and he used them admirably and inventively--I was literally hanging on words to hear what he would do next. In "Don Juan," he conveyed so much without any facial expressions (as he was hidden by his black robe and hood), and I think others (like John Whitney who sang Ubaldo Piangi) could learn from him. Mauer was well in his body and was a pleasure to listen to.

Unfortunately, Raoul is relegated to the boring, pretty boy in the book, and he doesn't have a lot to do. John Cudia's handling of "All I Ask of You" was good; his chemistry with Danvers was believable, and his acting was credible. It's just not a very exciting role to play.

I enjoyed Firmin and Andre's performances a lot; they played well off each other and it was obvious that David Cryer (yes, that Cryer. He's Jon Cryer--"Duckie"'s--Dad) and D.C. Anderson have shared the stage many a time. It was refreshing to hear the lyrics clearly for a change, but I know much of that is due to the register in which the music is written.

Whitney, on the other hand, as Carlotta's other half, was completely unintelligible. He did well with the physical comedy and sang well--I liked the scene in the rehearsal hall where the choirmaster is attempting to coach him to the right notes. So funny!

In general, the cast did a fine job. Vocally, high points were the "Notes" scenes and the opera within the musical scenes. "Masquerade," however, left a lot to be desired. It lacked punch, both in choreography and in vocal sound. It was a little muddy. I kept wondering if the stage was too small for the gigantic set, and if the actors were making adjustments as they went. It felt that tentative. Shame, since the costumes and sets in that scene are beautiful. Visually, it can be stunning. This time, it just felt cluttered. Maybe they should have dumped the mannequins!

All in all, believe it or not, I enjoyed the production immensely--much more so than I thought I would. I expected a shlocky, old-school, creaky Phantom. While the show is certainly showing its age (can we please update the synthesizer drum machine???), it is still an entertaining spectacle worth seeing and hearing.

Oh, and Caryn, the dude's name is Breckin Meyer and he was on "Inside Schwartz," which had to be a guy thing. The picture doesn't show the similarities, but I swear Cudia could be his older brother.


Legion said...

Hey A,

That's a well though out and very constructive critque. Great writing. Even though I'm not a fan of the show myself it still was very concise and in depth enough to make me want to see it just to understand what you were talking about in some of the critiques.

By the way, I've been leaving comments on your previous two posts and they've never appeared? You just deleting them after you read them?

trAcy said...

educational post for the untheatrical. did this help you get an article out? last i remember was your having to write about something you'd never heard of sung by someone you've never heard, etc.

best quote: barn owl crossed with the ballerina on a music box

good with all the b's.


hearmysong said...

Of course I'm not deleting. I'm just a moron :).

and tracy, i wish i had been able to do an article reviewing. alas, i cannot with my aroundcinci gig, so i review on my blog since i have nowhere else to go with it.