The London audiences aren't wrong. "The Phantom Of The Opera" is romantic musical theater hokum in the grand manner - hokum cordon blue - and it justifies the feverish buildup that has given it a $16,500,000 advance. It's good for a Broadway run of several years. Andrew Lloyd Webber has taken the Gaston Leroux potboiler about the love-crazed disfigured genius who lives in the catacombs of the Paris Opera and fashioned it into a thrilling and musically rich mass legit entertainment. The 19th century period spectacle, scenic legerdemain, soaring melodies and exceptional singing are at the service of an involving and piquantly offbeat love story, all of it staged with brilliantly organized flair by Harold Prince, back in top form.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Broadway Reviews
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Technically it is a piece of impeccably crafted musical theater, with theme, music and staging in perfect accord. They combine as a total statement that depends for its potency more on the sum of its parts than on the strength of any individual component.
It is a spectacular entertainment, visually the most impressive of the British musicals. Perhaps the most old-fashioned thing about it is it's a love story, something Broadway has not seen for quite a while. To say the score is Lloyd Webber's best is not saying a great deal. His music always has a synthetic, borrowed quality to it. As you listen you find yourself wondering where you've heard it before. In this case you've heard a lot of it in Puccini, in the work of other Broadway composers and even the Beatles. Nevertheless he seems to be borrowing from better sources, and he has much greater sophistication about putting it all together. There are some droll opera parodies, several beautiful songs, an impressive septet and a grand choral number, all richly orchestrated.
It may be possible to have a terrible time at 'The Phantom of the Opera,' but you'll have to work at it. Only a terminal prig would let the avalanche of pre-opening publicity poison his enjoyment of this show, which usually wants nothing more than to shower the audience with fantasy and fun, and which often succeeds, at any price. It would be equally ludicrous, however - and an invitation to severe disappointment - to let the hype kindle the hope that 'Phantom' is a credible heir to the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that haunt both Andrew Lloyd Webber's creative aspirations and the Majestic Theater as persistently as the evening's title character does. What one finds instead is a characteristic Lloyd Webber project - long on pop professionalism and melody, impoverished of artistic personality and passion - that the director Harold Prince, the designer Maria Bjornson and the mesmerizing actor Michael Crawford have elevated quite literally to the roof. 'The Phantom of the Opera' is as much a victory of dynamic stagecraft over musical kitsch as it is a triumph of merchandising uber alles.
To look on the bright side first, The Phantom of the Opera is a terrific technical achievement. If you want scenery and costumes, sight gags and sight thrills, they're all there—$8.5 million worth of them—on the aptly named Majestic stage. And who doesn't want to see candles sprout all around an underground lake (even if it does not make technological sense) and a giant chandelier almost crash into the audience below (even if it looks more like a giant balloon changing courses in midair)? It is good, mindless fun, and costs less than a trip to Disney World... The only areas in which The Phantom of the Opera is deficient are book, music, and lyrics.
In the end, The Phantom of the Opera can be no more than the sum of its pictorial effects. It's no opera (not with those bland melodies, not with lyric phrases like "Be My Guest" and "Make My Night"), it's not a display case of serious acting, it's not humor (not even self-mockery). It's pyschologically lightweight, long on melodramatic grotesquerie, and it can only on its visual chills. Will three chills, plus candles that swarm like fireflies, do you?
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