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Phantom of the Opera

Welcomes Norm Lewis as its First Black Lead on


Norm Lewis & Sierra Boggess photo by Matthew Murphy

By Jeanne Lieberman
On May 12, 2014 Norm Lewis made theater history by
becoming became the first African-American performer to play the
title role on Broadway. Sierra Boggess returned to the role that has

won her acclaim in the London and Broadway 25th Anniversaries.

As directed by Harold Prince and produced by Cameron Mackintosh
and The Really Useful Theatre Company, Inc., Phantom claims to be
the longest-running show in Broadway history with revenues higher
than any film or stage play in history. The New York production has
played an unprecedented 26 years and nearly 11,000 performances
to 16 million people. It continues to play, with no end in sight,
A trip back to revisit this now 26 year old production is like a trip to
musical theater antiquity, not quite the rightly revered Golden Age
(1940s to 1960s), but the 80s, to see a master at the top of his
craft. Andrew Lloyd Webber has his own golden age introducing the
mega-musicals: Evita, Cats, Starlight Express, Sunset Boulevard.
However in contrast to our current standards; the pared down,
acid laced, at times almost atonal, lyric infused complex emotions
of this eras icon, Stephen Sondheim, Lloyd Webber seems
overstuffed at least, and at times ponderous, his huge lush,
orchestrations suffocating to those who breathe the air higher on
the cultural mountain, but of supreme comfort to those who can sit
still, inhale deeply, and succumb to the unabashedly unfettered
melodrama and romanticism of the near past.
The story, for those just visiting our planet, is based on the classic
novel Le Fantme de LOpra by Gaston Leroux and tells the story
of a masked figure (Mr. Lewis) who lurks beneath the catacombs of
the Paris Opera House, exercising a reign of terror over all who
inhabit it. He falls madly in love with an innocent young soprano,
Christine (Ms. Boggess), and devotes himself to creating a new star
by nurturing her extraordinary talents and by employing all of the
devious methods at his command which include the now infamous
crashing of the chandelier into the audience and a variety of
backstage murders.
Far from the Brit pretty boy image of Michael Crawford and those
handsome leading men that followed here in the role Lewis brings
a sexually intense, almost menacing persona not lithe but stocky,
his suit a bit crumply as it would be, buried in his quarters in the
Opera House sans sartorial benefit. He reeks of ego and animalism
rather than the cerebral intellect of a maniacal composer. The result
is that the seduction/hypnosis scene, in his gorgeous duet The
Music of the Night with Sierra Boggess (reunited since The Little

Mermaid) seems more insistent, overpowering in this version and

every indication the magic of this opus still works.
To get a fresh perspective I brought along my niece, who had never
seen the show. Here are her unedited remarks:
For a first time viewer of Phantom, one gets hooked from the
moment the chandelier is revealed and the shot of light that is set
off remains in your minds eye throughout the first scenes. From
the opening where first Christines true talent is revealed, Sierra
Boggess shines throughout the show. Reminiscent of Belle
in Beauty and the Beast, and with the same light in her eyes and
wonder in her heart, it is no wonder she was hand-picked for the
25th anniversary edition by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself. Her range
and powerful voice remain strong throughout the musical, as does
her passion for the role and for her Angel of Music, both a love and
a fear.
Opera Ghost Norm Lewis, while remaining both behind the scenes
and very much present throughout his productions, lends a
powerful force to the entire production. His voice, besides a few
shaky notes, was solid, and his emotions came through, especially
in the scenes with his muse. The infatuation he had with Christine
was very real, and her willingness to help him but horror once she
saw the true him, was evident from the instant his mask was
removed. The two characters played off each other beautifully,
especially in the final scenes.
Evil Madame Giry, Ellen Harvey, maintained her character, always
believing in and knowing the truth about the Opera Ghost. One
wonders what her relationship was with him in a past life, but her
strength and vulnerability shone through. She played the part well,
as did Raoul, played by Jeremy Hays, whose princely looks lent
itself to the role, and devotion to Christine was evident throughout.
Comedic operatic characters Michelle McConnell and Christian
Sebek, playing Carlotta and Ubaldo, sounded wonderful, and the
acting of Laird Mackintosh as Monsieur Andre and Tim Jerome as
Monsieur Firmin, was greedily funny. Polly Baird, playing Meg Giry,
did not impress, besides acting in defense of her friend Christine.
Her voice did not conquer her scenes.
The scenes where the OG was communicating through notes to the
staff of the opera were difficult to follow, with at times five

characters singing over each other, became confusing to this viewer.

Overall, though, the performance was mind-blowing, and really
stayed with you. Between the costumes, the sets, the pyrotechnics,
the moving pieces (gargoyles and chandeliers) and the songs one
has always known but never seen in action, the night was pure
magic. (Jenny Lieberman Moldow)
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, directed by Harold Prince. Lyrics
by Charles Hart (with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe), book is
by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Production design by
the late Maria Bjrnson, lighting by Andrew Bridge and sound
design by Mick Potter with original sound by Martin Levan. Musical
staging and choreography is by Gillian Lynne. Orchestrations are
by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
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