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BWW Review: Synetic Theatre's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Omits Much, Adds Very Little

Synetic Theatre's "The Phantom of the Opera", now streaming, feels more like fanfiction than a classic reimaging. 

BWW Review: Synetic Theatre's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Omits Much, Adds Very Little

"Synetic's adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera will honor the pathos and beauty of this classic French tale while examining longing, legacy, and the tragedy of unrealized dreams."

Creative twists aside, as outlined in the show notes, Synetic Theatre's The Phantom of the Opera, first appearing live in Feb 2020, has its roots in Gaston Leroux's novel of the same name; a work immortalized in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway adaptation. Those roots, however, never grow into anything in Synetic's take. In fact, they remain studiously buried in a show that feels more like fanfiction than a classic reimagining.

This is perhaps because Synetic -- a physical theater company using motion to tell stories for audiences of all ages -- doesn't translate well from stage to screen. Though the theatre has a beautiful new streaming service, this recording, with its single wide shot and jerky pans, can feel like watching a home video shot from the center orchestra. Close ups on faces -- critical for Synetic to resonate-- rarely occur. This piece must work better in-house. On screen. it is not compelling enough to prevent the inevitable reach for the pause button or new tab.

But a movement-driven The Phantom of the Opera was always going to be a tough sell. In the original French text, Leroux drew upon real events to tell the story of a young soprano, Christine Daae, who unknowingly becomes the muse for the Phantom of the Opera, a disfigured recluse haunting the opera house where she performs. Leroux's prose, and later Lloyd Webber's score for the Broadway musical, are what made the story iconic. Synetic usually succeeds in adding its essence to works others made famous -- its Frozen-esque adventure worked without a single "Let it Go." That didn't happen here.

There is so much missing from this work.

In Leroux's novel Christine journeys to the Phantom's lair in a dark, damp tunnel. It's a haunting moment that director Nate Weinberger replaced with a Matrix-esque scene set to what could be the soundtrack from Run Lola Run. The worst elision, however, is in the premise. No one is a singer. Not a single person. In a book, a Broadway musical and 2004 feature film known for portraying a haunted opera house putting on an opera, not a single character sings. To work within Synetic's movement-driven ethos, could singing not be pantomimed? Would that not have been the better challenge than pivoting to ballet?

The work is also dark -- and that's not just a statement about the boudoir-themed costuming. Screen adjustments, attempts to move to darker rooms, and the video is still dark. The set can rarely be seen. When Christine (Maryam Najafzada) does find her light, she is a dirge in her black tutu, leotard, tights and shoes. The wrap skirts dumped on top of the corps' beautiful soft tulle, yet still black, tutus, could've offered color, but didn't. The Phantom mask is a bright spot, though bedazzled in a way that suggests more pizazz than any recluse would wear. More importantly, would a recluse have minions? If so, would they be costumed like internet hackers filming a ransom video? Synetic insists they would. The masquerade scene features the best attempt at costuming--finally a bright white for Christine and a fun red for the Phantom. The tiered dresses the rest of the cast wear flow nicely, yet feel distinctly Spanish. But then again, where is this set? The original France? It is never clear.

Of the acting, which is never weak, but never on par with past Synetic performances, Carlotta (Rachel Small) tries the hardest to bring some semblance of character. Yes, ballet is movement, but in that movement is fear, joy, desire, rage -- only Carlotta seems to understand that. The Phantom brings very little except cliche, which could be the result of a gender-bent role of little substance. Traditionally, gender-bending iconic roles -- a female Hamlet, for instance -- sends important messages, breaks down stigma and gives actors better parts. But a female Phantom stripped of the mysterious allure the French text dictates, and the brashness of Lloyd Webber's imagining, feels reductive. There are enough stories about women who seek to salvage their youth in another. This didn't need to be another one of them.

Christine suffers the same character flaws that Lloyd Webber's Christine endures, but at least in this work she is a stronger dancer. Najafzada was clearly chosen for her flexibility. Her extensions, when she sticks them, create beautiful moments. The choreography, unfortunately, can leave audiences in want of those moments. While the Graham-esque floorwork is well-done, the ballet can feel primitive and unfamiliar in the context of the work.

Ultimately, it's easy to mistake this for the Red Shoes or BLACK SWAN or The Little Dancer because this isn't really Phantom. It's a story about a haunted ballet school. That may or may not be in France. Set to atmospheric sounds and freeplay beats. It is shot on a Sony DV cam, and requires one to parse the bleak darkness for any plot or character. If one goes into the show expecting this, no will be disappointed.


The Synetic Streaming service will be available to the public starting Feb. 5, 2021 for $9.99 per month. It can be purchased through SyneticTheater.com.


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