The National Tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera comes to a close on, appropriately, Halloween night in Los Angeles, a place that can be pretty scary all by itself but is also known for romance and intrigue.
One wonders if the original story-teller, Gaston Leroux of France, had any idea how famous this story would become. There are currently five English translations, and the story has been adapted by a slew of books, novels, movies, children’s books, and several musicals. The musical adaptations include ones by Hill, Yeston, and Lloyd Webber.
The most famous of these is Webber’s Phantom of the Opera; it has had more performances in New York and worldwide than any of the other musicals. Its reputation has only been enhanced when the stories of Eric the Phantom were said to be based on a real person. Lon Chaney Sr. gave a riveting performance in the silent movie version, and there was scandal about some of the music having been “borrowed” from Puccini and even Pink Floyd. Nonetheless, the musical remains one of the great triumphs of the musical theatre.
I have seen Phantom five times. The best of the lot was, and remains, the shortened version, a blessed 95 minutes, in Las Vegas, especially when that extraordinary performer, Brent Barrett, played Eric. The production is spectacular, with the whole theatre being converted to the Paris Opera House, and the famous falling chandelier coming down in five pieces not just one.
In New York I enjoyed Howard McGillin as the Phantom. In the original L.A. production (the longest running show on the West Coast) I loved the Raoul, Michael Piontek, and as for the Phantom, I loved Davis Gaines (though a bit too young but what a voice) and Michael Crawford (spooky but a weird voice), but was disappointed in Robert Guillaume. I also liked Dale Kristen as Christine Daae; she is known as having a voice of steel and was the only Christine allowed to play all eight performances weekly.
So what about the cast for the National Tour currently at the Pantages? Well, first let me say that, next to the glorious interior of the Pantages, the normally glittering sets and costumes of the tour looked tacky. Secondly, the performance I saw featured an understudy as the Phantom by the name of Dallyn Vail Bayles. He has a terrific voice, but allowed his Phantom to get whiney. It seemed to be his first go-round, as the cast all applauded him.
Trista Moldavan doesn’t have a strong voice, but she got better in the second act. For some odd reason, one of my favorites scenes, the one with the song “Past the Point of No Return,” lacked tension. And the direction seemed odd.
Speaking of direction, the actual opera scenes have been allowed to become total camp. Whether this is due to boredom after a long tour or misdirection I don’t know, but it makes the whole story a bit silly. Sean MacLaughlin is simply magnificent as Raoul, with a strong masculine presence and a glorious voice. It was great to see D.C. Anderson having a great time as Monsieur Andre. He is funny and has a lovely voice too.
But for the most part I am quibbling. The audience loved it, and if you haven’t seen it or want to have your kids experience it on-stage, rush down to the Pantages, where it is playing until Oct. 31. Bon Voyage Monsieur Phantom.