|THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA|
The chandelier still swings over the audience, the gondola still floats in the mist, and the music of the night still soars. Twenty-six years and nearly 11,000 performances later, Harold Prince’s lavish production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “The Phantom of Opera” not only looks as good as it did in 1988, but still holds the same thrills for audiences as the day it first bowed at the Majestic Theatre. However, theatergoers who choose to visit the show now – whether for the first time or the 100th – will notice one huge difference. Broadway veteran Norm Lewis is now making his mark on the title role, as well as making history by becoming the first African-American actor to play the part on Broadway.
As it turns out, it certainly seems possible that the Phantom could be African-American without impinging on the logic of the story. More importantly, Lewis’ presence is anything but so-called stunt casting. He beautifully captures the soul of this tortured man, drawn at times by both love (for music and for star pupil Christine Daae) and hate (for injustice and stupidity) to take often monstrous action. He’s anything but a villain, though; you’re more likely to cry for him than boo him. Vocally, he gives a glorious rendition of the Phantom’s chilling signature song “The Music of the Night,” and earns a well-deserved ovation.
Lewis aside, the real reason one should run to the Majestic right now is to see the magnificent Sierra Boggess, who practically reinvents the role of aspiring opera star Christine (which she has previously played on Broadway and in London). This gorgeous actress invests every ounce of her being into making the initially naïve Christine a full-bodied character, and her beautiful, never-harsh soprano does full justice to such lovely songs as “Think of Me,” All I Ask of You,” and especially, “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.”
The current production also benefits from two strong supporting performances. The handsome, strong-voiced Jeremy Hays elevates Christine’s virtuous lover Raoul from the status of cardboard hero, and Ellen Harvey is a deliciously stern, almost scary Madame Giry. Conversely, Michelle McConnell, while a good singer, needs a lot more divatude to turn Carlotta into the kind of love-to-hate character that earned Judy Kaye a Tony Award.
“Phantom” will never be my favorite musical; stretches of it drag (especially some of Webber’s overlong opera pastiches) and the plot remains remarkably simple-minded. But should Prince and the producers continue to make such smart casting decisions, there’s more than a ghost of a chance that this legendary musical will stay on Broadway for another 26 years.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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