It's hard to turn a classic on its head, especially when you're talking about one of the most performed and beloved musicals of all time.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera has hooked children into theater and dazzled audiences young and old since its premiere in 1986, and yet, it felt sometimes as if the audience at the Broward Center on Friday night never truly connected with the performers onstage.
Was that because the performance itself was somewhat muddled, or was the performance somewhat muddled because the audience was rude? It's hard to tell. One thing is certain though -- the stagecraft of this Phantom is absolutely as brilliant as anything we've ever seen.
We've enjoyed many performances at the Broward Center in the past, but there must have been something in the air that made people act like animals. The magic was ruined from the very beginning. It was difficult to hear the auctioneer of the opening scene, a most-important part of the musical during which the audience falls under the spell. People acted like it was some optional prelude and talked right through it.
And as soon as the scene was over, this endless procession of loud, rude latecomers were hustled to their seats by ushers with just as little regard for the rest of the audience. There were times when we couldn't make out the actors' voices at all. Nothing takes you out of the magic sooner than a confused theater patron flashing his light in your face wondering which seat is his.
But it's also true that this was a most operatically performed version of the classic, and by that, we mean that everyone sang in rich and heavy voices that were as beautiful as they were difficult to understand. We knew what was being said because we've seen Phantom a variety of times, but our friend who had never seen it before left having understand only half or so, and Phantom does have such beautiful lyrics.
Not that the acting was bad, mind you. We can see why Julia Udine's Christine would be tapped for the Broadway performance, and we loved Jacqeulynne Fontaine's Carlotta from the moment she started. Ben Jacoby's Raoul was as dreamy as any, and Cooper Grodin's Phantom was a strong and masculine one, even if we're not too sure he's our absolute favorite.
Everyone's other preferred "character" is always the set, and what a set it was. This is where the latest version really shines. Its magic lies in a rotating tower that makes scene transitions so smooth, it may as well be a movie. The use of fire, smoke, and strobes give this Phantom so much mystery and surprise, and the audience should have been constantly dazzled by the lush costumes and over-the-top presentation.
The second-half of the performance was easier to appreciate, given that no more latecomers were straggling in. It's a matter of respect to the actors, and perhaps they would have put more into their performance if it weren't for the immediate lack of connection. The Broward Center should rethink their latecomer policy, especially in the case of groups over 10.
It was all in all a beautiful performance, though we'd recommend this version more to those who have seen Phantom over and over throughout the years and want a refreshing take on a classic. If you've never seen Webber's beloved adaptation before, you should still go and see it, but you may one day just have to see it again.
Follow Kat Bein on Twitter @KatSaysKill.
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