The thing with musical theater royalty—those immortal, wildly popular pieces such as “Les Miserables” or “The Phantom of the Opera”—is that it either completely blows you away or it doesn’t. There is no middle ground.
That thought comes in handy when parsing the production of “Phantom” currently playing at The Theatre at Solaire—the world premiere of the 2019 international tour and the second visit to the country of Broadway’s longest-running show.
Like the 2012 version that was Manila’s first encounter with the musical’s masked genius, this “Phantom” is also a replica production of the original (meaning, other than the actors, what you see here is essentially what you’d see on Broadway and London—direction, choreography, design).
To a certain extent, this “Phantom” lives up to the hype surrounding it. The singing, as expected, is topnotch—to be otherwise would be tantamount to heresy. This Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart baby is arguably the most musically accomplished among the British megamusicals of the ’80s.
The “Masquerade” sequence remains a peerless visual spectacle. The costumes, the dancing, the unveiling of the draped set at the beginning—taken together, they may justify the steep price of admission.
And yet, something’s amiss.
Implicit in this musical is the idea of heightened theatricality. For starters, nothing here is short of lavish; everything is grand and meant to awe. Opera sequences—these pockets of Drama with a capital D—abound. A chandelier crashes on the stage; a subterranean lair lit by candelabras is almost a plot point in itself. Heck, the whole story is about a disfigured man haunting an opera house and obsessing over a vacuous ingénue, and acting on this obsession to ridiculous lengths.
Heightened theatricality, this production seems aware it must serve. But it does so mechanically, in a way that feels almost too respectful to the original. Instead of broad, hyperbolic steps, most of the time we get measured tiptoes.
With this tiptoeing, comedy eludes this “Phantom,” while the drama becomes a note-by-note unfolding. On gala night, the jokes effortlessly went over the audience’s heads, on one hand. The love story, on the other hand, could hardly get the temperature, let alone the tension, up.
Perhaps this is precisely the thing with replicas: In their pursuit of parroted perfection, they run the risk of coming across as antiseptic and devoid of personality.
This “Phantom,” with director Arthur Masella at the helm, also features Meghan Picerno’s bland, occasionally robotic Christine (her placeless Act II solo, “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” simply comes and goes); Beverley Chiat’s too-mannered and almost humorless Carlotta; Melina Kalomas as a taxidermied Madame Giry; and, not that it matters significantly, an ovoid chandelier of little oomph.
Thank the theater gods, then, for Jonathan Roxmouth. His Phantom seven years ago at the Cultural Center of the Philippines was already a commanding creation. Now it is the single thing in this show that firmly grasps the heightened theater of the piece—a performance elevating a production. Here, the masked madman becomes the only character worth caring about, and it also doesn’t hurt that Roxmouth sings the score like the music were composed with his voice in mind.
Roxmouth’s performance alone makes the pilgrimage to this “Phantom” worth your while. (A second peek, if you were there the first time around, is far from unreasonable.) Come with your own mask, though. A clear view of this production beyond its Phantom might just prove the slightest bit, well, disenchanting. —CONTRIBUTED
“The Phantom of the Opera” runs until April 6 at The Theatre at Solaire, Pasay City, with performances on Tuesdays-Sundays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays-Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Call Ticketworld at 8919999 or visit ticketworld.com.ph.