By Warren Talbot
After 65,000 professional performances seen by 130 million people in 30 countries and 152 cities, you would think one would be hard-pressed to find a person who has not seen “The Phantom of the Opera,” or at least has an appreciation for what some call a great love story.
Not so. I am that person.
At first I was concerned that my shallow knowledge of the heralded musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which made its debut in London in 1986, would be a hindrance to my ability to comment on this new and updated North American touring production. The show had its local opening night last week at the opulently restored Boston Opera House near Downtown Crossing.
The play, based on the classic novel “Le Fantome de L ‘Opera” by Gaston Leroux, is about a masked figure who lives beneath the Paris Opera House and devotes himself to nurturing the talent of a beautiful, young soprano named Christine Daae. We are, I guess, supposed to have some sympathy for him and for Christine’s misguided attraction to him.
As this “reinvented” production by Cameron Mackintosh crept along, however, I became more comfortable with the fact that perhaps it was best I had not seen one of the previous 65,000 performances.
I do not know how it was updated or refreshed. I did, however, overhear one patron who said he had seen it eight times tell his companion that the lyrics to “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” in Act 2, Scene 5, had been changed.
I would never have known about the alleged lyrics alterations, but I can tell you I never heard a word of them because I was mesmerized by the scenery of the graveyard where Christine (played by Julia Udine) was singing at her father’s towering Celtic cross of a grave marker. Daae’s voice and performance was upstaged by the slowly rising sun bringing dawn to the village behind her.
It was the scenery, costumes and technical razzmatazz — not the individual performances (sometimes really good and especially by Jacquelynne Fontaine who played diva Carlotta Giudicelli) ) — that held my attention throughout.
My favorite scene was the “Masquerade/Why So Silent” at the start of Act 2, with all 52 cast members colorfully costumed in the grand ballroom of the Paris Opera House still haunted by the Phantom in 1912. The scene under a huge mirrored ceiling comes to a trembling halt with the appearance of The Phantom (Cooper Grodin), looking like the devil and warning of disaster if his wishes are not carried out about the production of an opera he has written.
Otherwise, I really can’t attest to witnessing any show-stopping moments.
The entrance to the Phantom’s sewer-like underground lair by set designer Paul Brown features a huge fortress-like circular wall that rotates, slowly revealing steps that the characters must carefully navigate into the darkness. According to the publicity materials, the main scenic wall weighs 10 tons and rotates around the stage.
The much ballyhooed, one-ton chandelier (designed by the same guy who designed the Olympic rings for London) hangs ominously over the audience, but then gets lost in the production.
Inexperienced as I was about the storyline and the genesis of the musical, I had a vague idea that we were supposed to feel some sympathy for The Phantom, who wears a hockey goalie-like mask to hide a disfigurement, and obsesses over Christine. She is engaged to another man, Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, played by Ben Jacoby.
But wait, I had no sympathy for The Phantom.
He is an egomaniacal bully, stalker and murderer. There are to my mind suggestions that he raped Christine.
Near the end, he was ready to hang Raoul if she did not give in to him.
The Phantom seems to have some remorse at the end, but I don’t trust him. There were a couple of times that the cops chased him down and could have dispatched him, but didn’t. Too bad.
Regardless of his disfigurement, The Phantom is a creep.
IF YOU GO
What: Broadway In Boston’s “The Phantom of the Opera.”
Where: Boston Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston
When: Through July 20.
How: Tickets through Ticketmaster 1-800-982-2787 and by visiting www.BroadwayInBoston.com. Tickets also sold directly at the Boston Opera House during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.