Sunday, March 11, 2012

Phantom of the Opera Tour Observations: Act I

As you can see from the picture of the chandelier, the set design is slightly different. The chandelier is not well covered, but the ushers weren’t shouting at people to not take pictures, so I don’t know how well protected they wanted it to be (or maybe not too many other people were trying to take a picture, I don’t know).
The show was packed, first of all, and the nice couple I was sitting next to had said they’d seen it in London a while ago (as in, when MC was the Phantom) and were dying to see it again but didn’t live close enough. I feel this will be the case for most people who see the show.

Anyway, I took lots of notes so I will try and summarize the changes and give my reviews of the scenes.

JOJ- Phantom
Katie Hall- Christine
Simon Bailey- Raoul

All of these actors have played the role before, so I was curious about how they’d work with the new design.
The show starts with the actuioneer leading everyone onto the stage for the last few items (Hannibal poster is different, just FYI) and the Elissa costume is randomly in the corner downstage left. No idea why. Raoul has been significantly de-aged. He looks much younger than in the original. He wins the music box, which has a new design as well. It kind of opens like a flower to reveal the monkey is inside of it. 

new music box design. The top triangle opens
to reveal the monkey
Don't get distracted by my mad art skillz guys.

The chandelier lowers when the guy is talking about it and I think it sparked in the beginning, I can’t read my notes. Raoul lingers on stage as the dancers wander on and the set begins coming on, so it is kind of like he’s remembering everything which makes sense since the whole show is a flashback. Since we don’t have the chandelier rising from the stage, I think bringing Hannibal on early is a good change so we aren’t staring at the scene shifters the whole time.

Raoul finally wanders away and Hannibal starts. It’s largely the same as the 25th anniversary- the dancers get a full dance, and are not interrupted by the Christine dialogue. Piangi enters on chariot, no elephant. This means that the end of Hannibal is not as comedic. He does a bit with the knife when he pulls it out and looks at it like “what the eff it’s tiny” but it’s largely lost if you’re not looking for it. During Carlotta’s TOM sandbags with a severed rope fall from the flies, which adds a bit more menace I think- it shows the phantom was actually up there messing with stuff. 

Christine is shoved forward by meg to sing and they ask about her father. She begins TOM- sans scarf and crown, to note a difference. What I like about this scene is they added a background when the actual opera is happening, as opposed to a bare stage. Raoul is in his own box, the normal Raoul spot, and the managers are in a box under Box 5. Christine is joined by dancers while Raoul sings who bring her the scarf (which I think she should have had the whole time- I miss the prop and it forces Christine to just spend a lot of time walking around singing with nothing to use). She finishes  her song (no scarf toss) and bows to us, no back to the audience bow trick like in the original (you know where the back of the stage looks like the front and such) and the dancers rush on, some in robes, having already changed out of their costumes.

The dancers no longer rehearse on stage behind the dressing room after Madame Giry yells at them. Christine returns to the room (which is now like a chorus girl locker room) to change. Not a huge fan of this change, though in the context of the stage show it makes sense- she is only a dancer, though in the novel she had her own room since she sang minor roles so the dressing room always made sense to me. I’m just partial to the dressing room. The chorus girls’ room takes up most of center stage, and the door is upstage now so everyone exits or enters from the back. Christine now has a locket (I'm assuming- it's a necklace of some sort) that she wears from the dressing room to WYWSHA where she rips it off (in despair? trying to let go?) Raoul brings a red rose to her and as he opens the door Christine has undone her dressing gown and is checking herself out in the mirror (I find this funny cause the Phantom is totally watchin) and she jumps and covers herself when Raoul enters. They do their bit and the Phantom appears. The mirror isn’t as clear in this version, but the point gets across. Like it’s literally dirtier cause it’s in the dancers dressing room. It’s a bit bigger than the original, and doesn’t slide open but opens more like a normal door, if I remember correctly.

JOJ is effing fantastic as usual. The descent, as another blogger mentioned, is a lot different. The Phantom and Christine are visible the whole time. It is hard to describe the set, but it is set on the turntable thing in the center that people were wary of. There’s like a level with a railing and a door that they hang out on for the first verse, then they go through the door and down the stairs that magically appear along the side of the wall. This leads to the boat, whose fire starts by itself in the middle of the song. The Phantom is not wearing a hat for this scene, so no sexy hat toss. He does get to cloak twirl though. The set turns as the boat glides across stage to reveal the simple lair- an organ on the left and a bed on the right if you’re thinking from the audience perspective. The floating candles do nothing for me, especially after being reminded of the awesome descent in the original. Hell, even the movie version had the rising candelabras. I think the floating ones just aren’t as mystical.

... I can't draw it in paint well either, but this
is what the descent set looks like. The stairs
retract into the set as well

Christine is overwhelmed by the vocal amazingness that is exiting her throat and has to sit on the bed to rest. MOTN definitely has less blocking. The Phantom sings at her a bit in the beginning and then, yes, blindfolds her during the “close your eyes” verse before leading her forward around the lair to let her spirit soar. Then he takes it down. I do like that they took out the facepalm during “Turn your face away” because I HATE that part. I miss “Floating, falling” though. Christine is being led around the lair and gets lightheaded near the end or is totally overwhelmed by JOJ’s awesomeness, because she kind of staggers and then he leads her to the bed where she falls asleep. He covers her with the cloak as per usual and finishes the song.

STYDI has no costume change. After playing the organ uber loudly, Christine just rolls over. Cue music box, which is loud enough to wake her up. While the monkey plays, the Phantom is sealing his notes to the managers and then takes his mask off. This part is essential. He doesn’t just chill there with it off though, as I think happened the first preview, but he has some sort of bottle or salve or something and a cloth. So while Christine is all “holy crap, was that a dream? Nope, there’s mist and a lake and a boat and A MAAAAN” the phantom is dabbing his face with whatever like he’s healing it or something. I wasn’t close enough to see the deformity at any point in this show so I have no idea if it was oozing or whatever, but I think this is an interesting change. Christine picks up the mask and turns him around. He-obviously not expecting her to wake up to him blasting organ music 2 feet away (I’m making fun of this in both versions- come on, it’s totally ridiculous) and gets mad.

They end up on the same sides of the stage as normal, but JOJ doesn’t crawl to her. He does his “Oh, Christine…” and she picks up the mask and walks over to him. In a sweet moment, he lowers the hand holding his face and she doesn’t cower in fear so he takes the mask back and puts his dignity back on. I do miss the blocking for MOTN and the mirror bride (no wedding dress throwing in this version, FYI). Magical lasso commences as the descent set piece turns around to hide the lair. (I don’t know if that makes sense… but it rotates in front of the lair and they move the lair off while Buquet is talking). A chorus boy has joined the ballerinas below and tells Buquet to leave them alone- he is taunting them from up above (where the Phantom and Christine are before going down the stairs) and Madame Giry does her “WARNING STOP IT HE'S GONNA GET YOU” from below. There’s no Phantom sneaking Christine back moment, but I didn’t really notice that making much of a difference. I always thought it was a neat little addition to the stage show but wasn’t totally necessary.

The bottom of the big set piece opens up to reveal the manager’s office. This scene is largely the same (though feels a bit more confined by the small managers office) with a few line deliveries slightly different. When the Phantom’s last note is being read, he can be seen up above where Buquet was just a scene ago, narrating. Carlotta enters, and I was surprised to see her in a red dress! I think many of her costumes may have been scaled down for budget issues or costume issues (her’s are super heavy, apparently) and that was one thing I noticed.

Il Muto happens like the 25th anniversary concert, with Carlotta changing on stage before hand (there’s a funny bit where, like in the 2004 film, gifts are brought in to bribe Carlotta). Her countess costume is also much pinker and very different. Don Attilo hides behind a mirror and then hides in the wardrobe- I found this hilarious. It’s so like an Opera to be totally obvious but have the characters pretend not to notice. No phantom on the catwalks above the stage when he’s warning them that he’s angry, but most people don’t notice that anyway I think.

Il Muto ballet is much different. Their costumes are totally different, and we also get 2 Mr Tumnus like dancers running around. I can’t particularly comment on the dancing because on stage left Buquet is chilling while another flyman hangs out in the back. In a switcheroo a la Devil Take the Hindmost, the flyman turns around and BAM nabs Buquet. The man is hanged live on stage, an effect that would be more terrifying if I hadn’t seen Sherlock Holmes, which explains how the trick can be done. It was still cool to see him actually hanged live on stage, though I do like the shadows. I was so intrigued watching the hanging that I totally missed the ballet, and being a ballet fan I like in the original where you can see both at the same time.

Raoul and Christine head up to the roof, which is only about half the stage. There’s a tall statue with a lyre in the back and it’s snowing. Why is it snowing? I dunno. Christine is freaking out and then after she hears the Phantom whisper walks to the edge, ready to plummet over. Raoul sees this and his pre-AIAOY “Christine?” snaps her back from the edge and she huddles down. Raoul crouches a few feet away from her and starts the song. Now, I’m not 100% on board with the change. I like the suicide reference (Christine does try and kill herself in the novel, after all) but it changes the meaning of AIAOY. Much like I didn’t like Hadley Fraser’s condescending looks right before the song in the 25th anniversary concert, I think making Christine suicidal at this point turns AIAOY into less of a love song and more of a “I’m gonna say what I have to to keep her from the edge” song. AIAOY is supposed to be about dispelling the fear and comforting her with how much he loves her, not just telling her the things she wants to hear so she doesn’t jump.
But Katie and Simon are adorable and do turn it into a love ballad eventually. I found their kiss to be less awkward for some reason, as they kiss lightly and Christine pulls away. Raoul grabs her arm and pulls her back and they kiss again. It was a little forceful but also I think was meant to reassure Christine that he really meant all that he said, and since she responded I guess it worked.

As they leave the stage, the man statue in the back pushes forward to reveal that *gasp* the Phantom has heard all! I prefer the whole statue descending from the proscenium thing, but I’m glad they kept the lyre statue part in there. And it does look a bit more realistic than a floating-in-mid-air statue. I figured out why they made it snow- so the Phantom could look more dramatic when he swings his cape. JOJ again kills it, and here comes the finale!

The cast is on  stage taking their bows- The Phantom appears in box 5 with his walking stick and shouts GO as sparks fly from either his stick or the chandelier, I couldn’t tell. There’s a huge POP and flash and the chandelier drops a bit and is swinging wildly, lights flashing, while on stage there is a top boarder that lowers (mimicking the proscenium of the orginal). During the flash part of it has fallen off and is swinging, so after it the whole thing it kind of looks like a bomb went off or something and blew the stage apart. It’s not chandelier crash, but it’s better than just sparks like the 25th concert, and actually I was pleasantly surprised at the result.
I’m not sure I’ve done the first act justice in describing it, but those were my general impressions and reactions.

A few things to note: I didn’t like Katie’s wig from what I could see. I don’t know why, it wasn’t as curly as I’m used to.
JOJ’s wig was different too. It isn’t the normal slicked-back version we are used to. It’s a bit thinker and longer, and kind of made me think of a LND/2004 movie crossover, but I have absolutely no clue how it really looks because I wasn’t close enough. The style looked a lot looser to me and he didn’t look like the normal JOJ phantom I’ve seen a bunch. Sometimes I felt it made him look a little bit younger but other times it didn’t bug me. I can't wait to see it up close. I don't know if there will be a souvenir brochure once the tour starts, because the playbill only had rehearsal shots, not production photos. I'm dying to see some close ups.

And that’s act 1’s summary for you! On to act 2!

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