Review: The Phantom of the Opera (Mirvish)

Phantom of the Opera castPhantom of the Opera Brings Opulence and Gothic Romance to the Toronto Stage.

One of the longest-running musicals of all time, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, based on the novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, tells the story of a disfigured musical genius (Derrick Davis) living beneath the Paris Opera.

The Phantom, as he’s called by the opera’s artists and stagehands, is a controlling, sinister presence at the opera, where he frequently wreaks havoc. The Phantom also acts as both teacher and would-be lover to Christine (Emma Grimsley), the opera’s young new musical talent, who the Phantom considers the only appropriate vessel for his musical genius. Complicating matters is Christine’s childhood friend, Raoul (Jordan Craig), who also professes to love her. Along the way, there are a few murders, a love triangle, and a whole lot of stupidly-talented vocalists singing the roof off.

The Phantom of the Opera is a spectacle, and it’s frequently a romantic one, even while it’s also a bloody story of possessive love and persistent trauma. Most productions rely on the power and chemistry of the three leads to carry the big, bombastic emotion that underpins the story.

As the Phantom, Davis combines the right amount of power, fury, and sensuality. His Phantom has a nice fluidity: at times he is elegant, dignified, and regal. Then, in an instant, he is raging, spitting, erratic. There’s a twitchiness that reminds you that this guy has been living alone, in a sewer-lake, for much of his life. The two elements of the Phantom that any performer must nail are these frantic mood swings of romantic dignity and raging recluse, and Davis carries off both with a beautiful soaring voice.

Meanwhile, Christine’s story is one of a longing for freedom in a world that constantly denies her power. Constantly torn between the desires (both romantic and economic) of the various men in the story, Christine’s voice is a currency that gets traded around between them. It can be really powerful when actresses find the pragmatic strength and resilience necessary to highlight this central story of Christine as a survivor.

Grimsley plays Christine as a slow-burning candle that suggests this strength, unafraid to let Christine spit when she’s mad or clench her fists like she wants to tear something apart. Most gratifying in her performance are those moments where she allows the candle-flame to erupt less prettily, such as the intriguing anger in her performance of “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.” Her Christine feels sharp and cautious, more insightful as to what’s really at stake in the story than anyone else.

At the same time, there’s a lack of chemistry between Grimsley’s Christine and Craig’s Raoul, and no real sense of the dangerous attraction that draws Christine to the Phantom even as he repulses her. Craig plays Raoul as commanding and a bit bull-headed, taking a page more from the Love Never Dies school of Raouls (he has an intensity that makes me curious to see how he would tackle the Phantom role). One never quite buys that these two share a grand passion, but rather negotiate an exchange of protection for possession. In this way, the Raoul/Christine romance plays out like a mirror of the Phantom romance, sans the body count.

This Christine just feels far too sharp to fall for either of these men and the moments of heightened eroticism or romanticism never quite land. The result is a story that feels more Christine’s than anything, less a romance and more the simple need for one woman to survive however she can. This is perhaps a more cynical take on the central triangle, but a complex one that I think makes for a valid approach to the story.

In addition to these intriguing performances is the new staging, which is a mixed bag. Some moments have been de-fanged significantly, such as the violent murder of one character occurring backstage instead of onstage. The new Masquerade in the mirrored hall is gorgeous and emphasizes the equally gorgeous costumes more readily, but the moment of the Phantom’s entrance lacks the same gravitas as the slow descent down the massive, iconic staircase. That said, one of my favourite things in the world is listening to the gasps, screams, and startled laughter as the chandelier crashes down to end the first act, and I think that image really demonstrates just how much magic this show is still capable of working, regardless of these details.

Most versions of this musical must ultimately find a way to balance romance and horror. In my opinion, this one leans a little less on the romance than usual, and more on the tragedy of both Christine and the Phantom struggling to get what they want. I found this intriguing and satisfying, but if you’re in it for the romance, know that the show is still as grand and opulent as ever. The emotional beats are large and booming and the music is bombastic and exciting. Phantom is an institution by this point, and it’s still just as easy to get swept away in it all.

Details:

  • The Phantom of the Opera is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King St W) until February 2nd, 2020.
  • Performances are scheduled for Tuesday to Saturday 8PM, Wednesday 1:30PM, and Saturday & Sunday 2PM. Added performances include Thu. Jan. 9 at 1:30PM & Sun. Jan, 12 at 8PM. Note that the performance on Thu. Jan. 16 begins at 6PM.
  • Tickets range from $69 – $220 and can be purchased online, by phone by calling 416 872 1212, or in person at the box office.
  • Run Time: 2 hours 25 minutes with intermission.
  • Audience Advisory: Performance contains theatrical haze, strobe effects, live gun shots, pyrotechnics, and live flame. Viewer discretion is advised. Recommended for ages 6+.

Emma Grimsley as ‘Christine Daaé’ and Jordan Craig as ‘Raoul’ – Photo by Matthew Murphy.

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