New York Theater Review By Michall Jeffers
“Phantom Of The Opera” has been on the Great White Way longer than any other Broadway show. This Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is the most successful entertainment venture of all time; it has grossed more than any other play or movie. There have been countless performances around the planet, and the music is familiar to all. The first dramatic chords of the score are enough to bring applause, so recognized are the compelling organ notes of the title song. There have been countless recordings of “All I Ask Of You,” “Think Of Me,” “Music Of The Night” and one of the saddest songs ever composed, “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.”
During this twenty-five year anniversary of the opening, what could possibly happen to make history now? Two superb new leads; one of them, Norm Lewis, is the first African-American Phantom. The other, Sierra Boggess, hand-picked by Sir Andrew himself, is undoubtedly one of the loveliest Christines of all time.
“Phantom” is the quintessential Big Musical. There’s no doubt that audience members get their value dollar for dollar. The cast is very accomplished and unusually large; the costumes are colorful and flashy; and the special effects, including the famous moveable chandelier and the mesmerizing boat ride through a candlelit cavern, still inspire awe and delight. In the age of big ticket prices and small productions, it’s heartening to see the money on the stage.
The story is, by now, well known. Beneath the Paris Opera House lurks a creature who falls in love with an innocent young performer. He coaches and seduces her, scheming to create a star of his own making, and is willing to do anything to see his desires reach fruition. But she falls in love with a handsome young nobleman, which peaks the wrath of the Phantom.
Does the production hold up after all this time? Absolutely. Lewis and Boggess breathe new life into the show; Lewis may well attract a whole new audience. It must be said that “Phantom” is still a hot ticket, especially for tourists. I recently attended on a Tuesday night, not generally considered prime time for Broadway, and the house was packed.
The fact that Lewis is black adds to the appeal. The contrast of the white mask on dark skin is vivid. Lewis displayed his superior acting chops in the recent “Porgy and Bess.” Here, he creates a Phantom who is both frightening and sympathetic. We understand how Christine can be lured.
His lower register is especially powerful, and his interpretation of the lyrics is profound.
Boggess has a voice that is far less piercing and much more pleasing to the ear than the original Christine, Sarah Brightman. Even when commanded “Sing, my angel of music,” she scales the brutal extra-high notes with finesse. Her great physical beauty makes it easy to understand why both the Phantom and Raoul (Jeremy Hays, who resembles a young Simon Baker) fall madly in love with her. She makes believable the hypnotic hold the Phantom has on her, and when he is at his most desperate and pathetic, she shows real compassion for one who has been considered a monster his whole life.
The full orchestra is rousing, and the rest of the ensemble, including Michele McConnell as the rather silly Carlotta, do an admirable job in support.
This is a show with real humor, warmth, and heart. Who knows what the next twenty-five years will bring on the New York stage? I’d be willing to bet that a version of “Phantom” will still be captivating audiences from near and far.
The Phantom of the Opera, Majestic Theatre, 247 West 44th St.
thephantomoftheopera.com; 800-447-7400 or 212-269-6200
running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.