Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘The Phantom of the Opera’: A Treasure of Musical Theatre.

Reviews

Based on Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel of the same name, “The Phantom of the Opera” tells the story of Christine Daaé, a chorus girl plucked from obscurity to sing the leading role when the prima donna is unable to perform. During her time at the opera house, she becomes the obsession of the eponymous phantom, a misunderstood composer shunned from society because of a facial deformity, who is giving her voice lessons under the guise of being her “Angel of Music.” Things go awry when Christine’s childhood love, Raoul, the Vicomte de Changy, attends one of her performances, and he attempts to reconnect with her. What ensues next is a love triangle between the Phantom, Christine, and Raoul. The Phantom attempts to progress Christine’s career at the expense of the others in the opera house, he sabotages others’ performances and even goes as far as murdering two people in the process. 

The current cast, starring Ben Crawford as the Phantom, Emilie Kouatchou as Christine—who is making history as the first black actress to play the role on Broadway—and John Riddle as Raoul, began performing on Oct. 22, 2021, following the show’s reopening on Broadway. Currently, this is the only place in the world where the original production can be seen.

From the beginning, the show hooks you in with the mystery of what happened to the Paris Opera House during the show’s opening sequence: an auction set years after the main story. Then, the grand chandelier is unveiled as the show’s famous overture begins playing, rising above the audience as the opera house is returned to its former glory right in front of their eyes. From there, the audience is thrust right into the rehearsal of the fictional opera “Hannibal,” and they get a treat for what’s about to come: incompetent owners, an over-the-top prima donna, a stubborn primo uomo, and one of many disruptions caused by the phantom.

Raquel Suarez Groen’s portrayal of the prima donna, Carlotta, is one of my favorite aspects of the show. She is not only able to take an iconic character and make the role her own, but she is also able to humanize her in a way I have never seen from any other actress who has taken on the role. Over the years, I’ve noticed that some actresses tend to play Carlotta as a  heartless and selfish person who only cares about herself, and this is simply not the case. While Carlotta is an over-the-top character, she is just as traumatized as everyone else, and to me, portraying her as one-dimensional just makes her fall flat.

Ben Crawford & Meghan Picerno in Broadway’s “The Phantom of the Opera”
(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Ben Crawford’s portrayal of the Phantom was also a joy to watch. He didn’t really impress me all that much, nor did he bring anything new to the role, but he had some acting moments that I enjoyed. The same goes for John Riddle as Raoul, however, he complimented Emilie Koutachou’s Christine very well, and seeing them confess their love in “All I Ask of You” made me smile. 

Maree Johnson as Madame Giry, the opera house’s stern ballet instructor, who is working both for and against the Phantom, was also a highpoint of the show, giving a new side to a rich and complicated character. She had played Christine in the Australian production in 1994, so it was nice to see her return to the show in another role.

Emilie Kouatchou as Christine was the star of the show. She was, by far, one of the best Christines I have ever seen, and my opinion was solidified by her rendition of “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.” In the scene, Christine is visiting her father’s grave and reminisces about their time together. Here, Kouatchou is able to perfectly balance her singing and her acting. There are times when it looks like there are tears in her eyes, however, she isn’t actually crying; it’s all her acting. This continues in the following scene “Wandering Child… / Bravo, Monsieur…” as the Phantom, having followed Christine to the cemetery, tries to lure her into a trap of his, before she is saved by Raoul. All three actors play on each other’s strengths here; Crawford’s haunting voice contrasts with Kouatchou’s sweeter tone, while Riddle’s tone becomes more frantic as the song goes on, realizing that the Phantom has Christine under his spell again and that he could be too late.

Whenever someone talks about “Phantom of the Opera,” the show’s technical design is always mentioned, and for good reason. Designed by the late Maria Björnson, the show has always had a specific look and feel to it, something that is particularly well preserved in the Broadway production. One of its greatest feats is the false proscenium surrounding the stage. At the beginning of the show, it is covered by drapes, which are removed during the overture to reveal beautiful, ornate sculptures on each side of the stage, brought together by Björnson’s beloved Golden Angel in the center.

One of my favorite parts of the show is how director Hal Prince was able to utilize the set; during the rooftop scene, the angel is brought down to the stage, meant to represent one of the opera house’s rooftop sculptures. After the big love duet “All I Ask of You,” Christine and Raoul exit the stage, and once they leave, the Phantom emerges from the angel having been eavesdropping on them. While it may not be as majestic as the chandelier rising and falling over the audience, it’s a testament to how brilliant the original production is. It’s always a joy hearing gasps from the audience when he emerges from the darkness.

If you have not gotten the opportunity to see “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway before, I highly recommend you do so. With a brilliant design, score, cast, and story, the show is able to use the assets from its original production to its advantage and is still able to captivate modern audiences today. Although it will be a shock to many when it leaves the theatre it has called home for over 30 years, its legacy will remain for years to come, and, on the brighter side, there’s always a chance for a revival in the future.