EEEEEK! That’s all I can say about director Laurence Connor’s version of the Phantom of the Opera, performed at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto.
The musical is a favourite of mine, touching on the power of music, love, and passion. It mocks the prima donnas and those attracted to the phoniness that exists in the world of opera.
I’ve seen the Phantom of the Opera more then a dozen times, and while I can usually get through a poor singer or muddled dance performance, tonight was painful. This time the dancers and singers were not to blame, it was the choreography and the interpretation of the musical. The production was so shallow it left me feeling as if director Laurence Connor and cheoreographer Scott Ambler had no depth in their understanding of the relationship between a man and a woman. The attraction the character of Christine should have had to genius and teacher the Phantom didn’t exist. Her ability to sing with passion and authenticity when she drops the operatic pretense was gone. Instead, Christine came across more as the prima donna devoid of depth, clinging to her falseness.
The main point of the musical is to show the opposition between the Phantom’s ugly disfigurement and the beauty he and Christine are able to produce together through song. That beauty is in contrast to the fake quality of the opera singer — a quality the young dancer is supposed to replace with her authentic voice.
Instead, the performance simply substituted one prima donna for another. The opera never ended and the scenes that required the opera voice to be replaced by an authentic voice filled with passion and beauty never happened. I found myself longing for the first prima donna, because at least she was being authentic to her role.
The only good parts came when the Phantom, played by Chris Mann, had a chance to sing with passion, but having him crawl around on the floor, bum in the air to the audience, destroyed any true feeling he might have garnered.
In the original musical there is a passionate scene when the Phantom takes Christine to his lair for the first time. In the original musical, it is a passionate love scene, but not so in this version. Instead the director has the Phantom put a blindfold on Christine and has the actress stumble around the stage. The blindfold takes away any possibility of passion, turning it into more of a scene of power. The erotic tension and feelings that Christine is supposed to have towards the Phantom are gone, replaced by pin the tail on the donkey. It so obviously misunderstands the strength of her passion and the power she holds over the Phantom, I can only guess that the director has no understanding of women.
The focus of this performance seemed to be on the inner turmoil of the Phantom and the heroic quality of Raoul, but in doing so the director sacrificed the depth of character the original musical gave to Christine. Lost was the mockery of opera life, lost was the struggle to choose between her passion and the need to conform, lost was the passion that drove the Phantom to place his one love on a stage at all cost — even the cost human life. Instead of feeling as if the Phantom was consumed by his passion and the music, I left thinking the guy could sing. No depth, no feeling.
Another disappointing scene was when Christine is supposed to be searching for guidance at her father’s grave. Her true voice free from the operatic nonsense of stage is supposed to shine through, but instead she sang it with the pomp of full operatic style — missing on any chance of authenticity. It didn’t help having the stage hands messing about behind the props, taking away the stillness that the graveyard scene was supposed to have had.
My guess is that the director is enthralled with opera and has no knowledge of the passion, power and beauty that can exist between a man and woman. He seems to mock that power held by women, making the lead female role into a shallow character whose only talent is that she can sing opera.
The performance left me angry. Angry that such talented singers and dancers were made to destroy the message of a musical I adored. Devoid of erotic tension, bereft of a beautiful voice, the Phantom of the Opera was little but a bad play with some good dancers. A love story without love is quite empty, and this performance of the Phantom was just that. My heart goes out to the dancers and actors who lacked the strength of a good director.