Saturday, August 11, 2018

Theatre Thoughts - An Analysis: The Phantom of the Opera: The Perfect Cheese Wheel

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By: Emma B.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a series about musicals both the popular and the little known shows.

When you look up Phantom of the Opera reviews on Google, everyone from Playbill.com to the New York Times gives the musical overwhelming praise.
It’s the longest running musical in the history of musical theatre. It has been running for almost 32 years as of 2018 and has a worldwide gross of 5.6 billion dollars, plus profits from the merchandise. To put that into perspective; that is almost two times of the profits of the highest grossing film of all-time, Avatar by James Cameron.
It’s not uncommon to hear people say Phantom of the Opera is one of their favorite musicals of all time and yet, when I listened to Phantom for the first time, I thought, “This is gorgeous but...I’m just kind of thinking...meh.”
But then the more I spent time with it the more I grew to appreciate it for what it was. But how is this possible? I was still listening to the same soundtrack at the end of the day with the same plot and character progression. So what happened and furthermore, can a show be redeemed by elements other than its music?

The Influences
The Phantom of the Opera was a book originally written by French author Gaston Leroux and is baked with the influence of many other French stories such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Beauty and the Beast.
You can see these influences in the character of the Phantom. He uses violence to try and win the woman of his desires, perhaps not only due to his own insecurities but also out of wanting love but not knowing how. Does this remind you of another character? Perhaps, the Beast?
Gaston Leroux heavily borrowed themes and elements from Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker in the form of the story’s imagery. 
In the book, the opera house is wrapped in bright golds and regal reds and the Phantom’s hideout is soothed in cool colors like purple and blue. It’s majestic and deeply stylized with the help of the creepy design. This helps to make the creepy elements feel more heightened.
The story itself, both in the book and on stage, builds the suspense. The Prologue and much of the early show is all about building the tension. We don’t even see the Phantom himself all that much and when we do it’s always clouded by mystery and fear, especially after the song Music of the Night.
After that point in the musical, he becomes more well-known and his obsession with Christine reaches insane levels. Furthermore as the opera descends more into chaos, the actions of the Phantom grow more dastardly and more desperate.
When I first listened to this show, there was something that didn’t sit well-with me.
What is The Deal?
When I listened to the show for the first time I found myself; unimpressed.
Yes, I did find myself enjoying the music but I wasn’t utterly enthralled with the characters and their story. If anything I found them lackluster, along with the various plot holes scattered throughout. So for a while, I truly believed that the musical was just sub-par.
But then I saw the live recorded version at The Royal Albert Hall and suddenly my perspective on the show changed. If you’re writing a musical correctly, then you should be able to detect the flow of the plot and the character’s journeys purely through the music. Phantom of the Opera follows this principle to some extent. You can, technically, get the entire experience of the show just through the music. But, you won’t get the full experience.
Here’s the thing about Phantom of the Opera.
Not only did the musical plot change from the book but much of it is built off a sense of visual wonder and appealing to one’s emotions. This means that much of the actors and scenery move the audience more than the music does at times. It was when I realized this that it hit me. Phantom of the Opera is just a fluff piece that’s exceedingly good at what it does.

The Simplistic Enjoyment
Phantom of the Opera isn’t meant to be enjoyable because it’s a paragon of how musical theatre should be done. It’s enjoyable because it is a grand production which cancels out some of its greater flaws.
Especially if you see this show live, or a live recording of it, it gets very hard not to get lost in the drama and the characters who, despite them being slightly bland, are very enjoyable.
I think that this show is kind of like a 1980’s cheese-fest. It’s not the deepest writing in the universe and not a perfect example of how Broadway should be written but it’s enjoyable. And the on stage technical aspects are masterful. I would recommend any starting techie should give them a look.
Overall, is Phantom of the Opera perfect? No. Not by a long shot. But is it good? Yes. It’s one of those shows you watch when you’re feeling down and is just the perfect gothic thing to cheer you up.


If you would like to read more about in our Theatre Thoughts series, click the links below.


Part 2: Theatre Thoughts - An Analysis: Grease: Pretty Music Disguised as a Good Musical


Part 3: 
Theatre Thoughts - The Great Comet Of 1812 + Dear Evan Hansen & The Portrayal Of Mental Health InMusical Theatre

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