The Phantom of the Opera: A Very Short Review

We happened to find ourselves with a free day in New York City last week, and of course we invested our time wisely! The first stop was the Morgan Library, where the manuscripts of J.R.R. Tolkien are on view through mid-May. This is well worth seeing if you can manage it, a real insight into the creative process of one of the founders of modern fantasy fiction.

But the exhibit is not all that large, and the Morgan is within walking distance of Times Square. A brief scouting of the TKTS booth there scored us last-minute tickets for the matinee of Phantom of the Opera, a mere hour before curtain. Irresistible! My husband had never seen it, although it’s been perpetually on tour and has been made into a movie in addition to running on Broadway for thirty years.

So it’s a warhorse, a staple for school tours and senior citizen jaunts. But there’s a solid reason for that. This is a wow of a show, pedal to the medal, over the top, and gunning for the horizon. It is wildly theatrical. This is the show where the full power of computer-aided sets came into play, guiding boats sailing across underground lakes, making candelabra rise from the mists. The emotional power of this is still incredible, after all these years. It’s a true spectacle.

And, to drive down costs and make transportation easier, any production of Phantom you’ve seen lately touring to your town is now different. They kept the iconic things, the falling chandelier and the underground boat journey. But the original staging may now only be viewed on Broadway (and, I assume, in the West End production in London, which was the very first one). We saw the glossy romantic edition. The new one is by all reports deliberately grittier and less lush. They’re billing it as updated. But my heart will always be with the over-the-top original.

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