BWW Review: Nothing Permanent Shall Stay
"The Phaaaaantom of the...." Wait, what's that buzzing sound?
The Phantom of the Opera, from its literary origins to the numerous film renditions made, all leading up to its fantastic run as a staged musical, is one of the most beautiful, heart-wrenching stories of its day. The Majestic Theater has ushered people through its doors to see Andrew Lloyd Webber's phenomenon of a show, and due to its popularity gives locals and tourists alike little reason to anticipate it going anywhere anytime soon. Including its recent North American production and the show's general worldwide reputation, Phantom has proven itself to be essentially untouchable.
That is, until now.
Picture a tattoo shop in Brooklyn, surrounded by all sorts of human and visual oddities...no, this isn't the plot of Webber's Love Never Dies, the not-so-popular sequel to Phantom that was actually quite good - beautiful, even. This is the creation of the rather clever Director/Producer team of Philip Lakin and Jordan Scott Gilbert, in association with Ocean Bay Entertainment, who have decided to take the basic plot of Gaston Leroux's novel and change the circumstances a bit to create a story that is new not only to the general public, but to each revolving bunch of audience members who comes to see the show. In what has been coined "reality theater," this production of The Phantom of the Improv is self-explanatory: it is Phantom with an improvisational twist, meaning that virtually ANYTHING can happen upon the stage at Sophie's at Broadway.
Three actors (the actors involved in this production rotate nightly, so even the people are different!) walk onto the stage, unprepared for what scenario they will have to act out on any given night. Since this show is unscripted, completely based on improvisation and only loosely based on the Leroux's novel, the audience is given full reign when asked to throw out suggestions towards the start of the show to determine where and how the Phantom/Erik, Christine and "Raoul" will play out their well known story of a man truly deranged by obsession and sorrow. For the purposes of this review, let's take the fascinating plot comprised of a young, inexperienced tattoo artist (Christine Daae), who is secretly taught how to tattoo by the mysterious Phantom of the Tattoo Parlor, all the while being seduced by Bradley Cooper. And yes, the actors are expected to sing with the help of an accompanist, making up the lyrics as they go. What a scary concept, even more so than watching a young ingénue follow a mysterious man into the depths of a tattoo parlor and somehow thinking this perfectly safe.
Well, what sort of story would there be without the heroine's naiveté?
And what sort of new, fascinating story can come about without the great talent of three actors who not only make up the dialogue and lyrics as the story progresses, but also use their talent as actors to turn a rather serious romance into something comical? Once the audience decides the location, which deformity the Phantom will have (begging the question of why he wears that mask...), and finally, which celebrity will make an appearance to capture the heart of our young heroine, it is the responsibility of the actors to reinvent Leroux's story in a way never done before. At this particular performance, Kelly Leissler, who doubles as the Phantom and tattoo parlor owner, is hilarious as he transforms from one character to the next, going from a mild mannered man to the disguised recluse who lives beneath his shop; as the Phantom, he apparently has a very bad hernia. Olivia Howell portrays the innocent, inexperienced Christine Daae, who has been taking lessons from a tattoo artist of whose name she is unaware, and who is given the chance to become a great tattoo artist when the parlor's lead man (Brian Matthew Byus) leaves to later become Bradley Cooper.
The show is quite funny, and since it is completely unplanned, both actor and audience are unaware of what will happen next; add song lyrics and melody, and the audience is presented with one talented cast! There are lots of laughs to be found in this show, as the thought of poking fun at The Phantom of the Opera is quite clever in itself; die-hard Phantom fans will even get a chuckle out of this performance. More so, the plot follows the sequence of both novel and musical, so even if the audience is unaware of how the Phantom and Christine wind up going back to the world above after he brings her down to his dungeon, or how Christine sings a duet with Bradley Cooper about the importance of money, it will be able to follow the sequence of events which constitute the original story.
Anything can happen on any given night, so it is difficult to say which version of Phantom will be seen; although, what I can say is that it is sure to be funny, and is definitely worth seeing at least once. Then, if you have yet to see Webber's famous musical and you are intrigued by the story on which this production is based, the Majestic Theater is only a short distance away! Either way, The Phantom of the Improv is a unique way of watching the Phantom's story unfold, yet this time in a way that does not make you want to do an entire psychological study on Leroux's mysterious and reclusive main character. Sometimes it is better to simply sit back and enjoy the buzz of imagination...or perhaps that's the tattoo gun you hear.
The Phantom of the Improv began previews on July 2nd and opened on July 9th. Performances are held at Sophie's at Broadway, located at 318 West 53rd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. Tickets are $35, and may be purchased by visiting www.phantomimprov.com or by calling (800)-838-3006. There is a two drink minimum, and seating is first come, first serve. Performances take place Wednesday thru Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
Enjoy the show!