The Phantom of the Opera is the most successful musical of all time. Since it opened in Her Majesty’s Theater 28 years ago, more than 130 million people have seen it and it has grossed over 5.6 billion dollars. Andrew Lloyd Webber composed the score and the story is based on the book “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra”, written by Gaston Leroux and published in 1911.
The plot revolves around the mysterious figure of the Phantom, a gifted man who was born disfigured and escaped from a travelling circus only to find a home in the underground tunnels beneath the Paris Opera House. From his lair, he issues commands to the producers of the opera, threatening to sabotage the performances if his instructions are ignored.
When the prima donna rebels against the Phantom’s creative control and adamantly refuses to perform, the producers decide to give young Christine Daaé, a lowly dancer and member of the supporting cast, a chance to take the leading role. The Phantom of the opera then falls in love with Christine and takes her as his protégé. The love triangle is completed by Raoul, a long lost childhood friend who meets Christine again when she takes the leading role in the opera and is smitten by her.
In stark contrast to the music, which is at times upbeat and joyful, at times slow and romantic, the story is a dark tale of seclusion, obsession and control. The discrimination he suffered as a child prompted the Phantom to eschew human contact, living in the catacombs of the theater. He falls in love with Christine precisely because she represents beauty, youth and joy, all that he sorely lacks, but desperately longs for. His obsession for the young woman is the main driving force behind the plot.
As a whole, the cast does an admirable job of bringing the story to life. Harriet Jones, in particular, has a mesmerizing voice and it is hard to think of other famous sopranos who could play the part of Christine as well as she does. Her acting and dancing skills also deserve plaudits. This being true, those who had the privilege of seeing Sarah Brightman playing the role of Christine when the musical originally opened in 1986 commented that her performance was simply unrivaled. Based solely on recordings of Brightman’s performance, I agree with this assessment.
Quite surprisingly, the only actor who seems miscast for the role is Gerónimo Rauch who plays the Phantom himself. Despite being deformed, one would expect the Phantom to be a tall, imposing figure, possessing magnetic charisma. Instead, Rauch is a short, rotund character of questionable stage presence. Even if the Phantom is portrayed as the villain of the story, the same casting requirements would still apply. Can anyone imagine Darth Vader being short and rotund? Well, only if you saw Rick Moranis play his part in “Spaceballs”. Despite being a very competent baritone, Rauch simply lacks the stage presence to impart any serious credence to the part.
This major blunder notwithstanding, it is easy to see why this production has been so successful throughout the years. Great acting, dancing and singing accompanied by seamless scene transitions, lavish costume and set designs and most importantly, a beautiful score. Sarah Brightman’s original rendition of the song “All I Ask of You” still remains my favorite part of the show and stands as the best indication of what one can expect to see.