Phan Review: Norm Lewis and Sierra Boggess’ Opening Night of ‘Phantom of the Opera’

The non-existent-but-totally-should-exist Fandom Dictionary defines Phan as a “person who has a strong interest in and/or admiration for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic musical The Phantom of the Opera based on Gaston Leroux’s 1910 eponymous novel; also maybe the 1925 movie but Lon Chaney is super creepy in that so probably not.” I am a self-described Phan. As such, when I found out that a new cast debut for the Broadway production coincided on my birthday, there was no question on how I would celebrate my (but more excitingly their) big day.

This is no run-of-the-mill tourist-baiting performance at the Majestic Theater. This is the opening night for Sierra Boggess, critically-acclaimed for her previous performances as Christine in the Las Vegas Phantom production as well as the West End’s Love Never Dies, and Norm Lewis, of Scandal and Les Miz fame, as the Phantom of the Opera himself. Lewis’ tenure as the Phantom makes him the first African-American actor to play the Phantom on Broadway. Taking my borderline obsessive love for the “Music of the Night” in mind — my Sweet 16 theme was Phantom masquerade (ugh, I know) — here is my take on the seminal performance of Phantom of the Opera.

Phantom: Like many younger Phans, I prefer Phantoms that are more man than monster. Lewis’ portrayal takes its cues from the more classical Michael Crawford Phantom, showing off his vocal range and reaching for especially high notes. I say reaching because Lewis doesn’t quite get to all of them, such as the long last note of “Music of the Night.” That being said, he is a vibrant, muscular Phantom, which makes him much more believably dangerous (and attractive). He really came into his own during the Phantom’s descent into madness. I didn’t even care too much about the “magical lasso” mishap in which Raoul had to re-noose himself. Lewis was having too much fun showcasing the Phantom’s eccentricities and dark sense of humor. I look forward to seeing Lewis as the Phantom again after he fine tunes his own interpretation of the O.G.

Phandom love mean never having to say you're sorry for breaking the no pictures rule.
Phandom love mean never having to say you’re sorry for breaking the no pictures rule.

Christine: Boggess is the best Christine I’ve ever seen or heard. What I enjoy most from Boggess’ take is that she imbues a sense of agency to Christine that is woefully absent in most performances as well as the source material. Christine is a young, talented soprano stuck between the imposing yet seductive Phantom and her wealthy, handsome childhood friend Raoul. Many stagings forget about Christine’s choice as she “twisted every way” between Phantom, Raoul, and the Opera Populaire. But Boggess’ Christine is awake and active — you can see and feel her making silent decisions about her own destiny. The way in which Boggess portrays Christine’s climactic solution to her dilemma is most striking. (I won’t spoil it for non-Phans a.k.a. future Phans.) It is, however, different than Boggess and Ramin Karimloo’s groundbreaking performance in the 25th Anniversary special — my personal favorite for it foreshadows developments in the sequel, Love Never Dies. See it below starting at 51:15.

 

Everybody else: The supporting cast and ensemble was generally solid, marked by an especially good — too good? — Carlotta (Michelle McConnell) and Madame Giry (Ellen Harvey). Jeremy Hays as Raoul balanced the earnestness and hubris of the second male lead without becoming too haughty or pathetic. The only significant blight was Deanna Doyle’s Meg Giry, although it does highlight how much better of a singer Christine is over best friend Meg.

Bonus: The creator and composer himself, Andrew Lloyd Webber, was there to witness the historic opening night!

This awful iPhone sneaky pic is the best shot I could get of the elusive ALW.
This awful iPhone sneaky pic is the best shot I could get of the elusive ALW.

All in all, Lewis and Boggess’ Phantom of the Opera is promising. I see it developing into one of the strongest runs in Phantom Broadway history. But then again, as a Phan, I was going to love it no matter what — warts, horrible disfigurements, and all.

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5 thoughts on “Phan Review: Norm Lewis and Sierra Boggess’ Opening Night of ‘Phantom of the Opera’

  1. Went looking for a review of Norm and Sierra’s opening night and only found this. Can’t wait to see them! Sounds like they are as fantastic as I expected them to be. (I REALLY hope I get to see them soon!!!!) However, I saw the show before Hugh Panero left and couldn’t disagree more about your assessment of the rest of the cast. While I agree Jeremy Hays does great as Raoul, Michelle McConnell was boring as Carlotta! She barely acts and managed to make the funniest role dull and forgetful. Ellen Harvey just played one note the whole show: Angry! And Deanna Doyle was the most perfect Meg I’ve seen…and i’ve seen the show 6 different times! I hope you are right about Norm and Sierra though. It’s my favorite theater show and I’m hoping they make the best Phantom and Christine team ever!!!

  2. Thanks for the review!
    I’ve heard audio of the whole show and agree that while Lewis is very good (—like the idea that he takes his clue from the more classical Michael Crawford), he will get better as time goes on.

    Sierra is a wonderful Christine. Unlike you, I am very glad she is playing Christine as the character in the show she is in and NOT foreshadowing the, for me, second rate and questionable sequel.

  3. I saw the Phantom with Norm Lewis in New York on May 24th and must say that I left somewhat disappointed with recent revisions to the staging, as well as with Norm Lewis in this role. I should say I am “in the business” and have seen this show 13 times, so perhaps my take on things is a little different from a typical theatergoer. There was little chemistry within the cast, as Lewis’ age creates more of a weird father-daughter relationship with the young Sierra Boggess, rather than a romantic tension that is naturally present with younger (looking) Phantoms. Lewis’ rendition of the Music of the Night was forced and lacked sweet, mysterious and dangerously seductive power so well projected by others – from Crawford to Panaro to Karimloo. He also cut the last note – the magical A-flat – incredibly short, suggesting an inability to sustain it for a full effect. It seems Andrew Lloyd Webber also re-worked some of the orchestrations, adding the unfortunate 1980s-style electric guitar riffs to the Overture and other parts of the score. The overall rhythm of the show felt rushed versus earlier productions, with both music, dramatic pauses and segues forcibly cut short. Some of the updated sets, however, made for a nice change. It is worth noting that Jeremy Hays absolutely carries the production as Raoul – a first I’ve seen given that Raoul’s character is very ‘flat’. He and Sierra Boggess have a great chemistry that mitigates the strange ‘sugar daddy’ age-difference undertones of Christine’s relationship with Lewis’ older phantom.

    Some shows go through revisions and come out of them as something fresh, magical and moving. Case in point – the new, shorter, reworked production of Les Mis. The changes to the Phantom – including the casting of Lewis – suggest that the show is past its maturity and is now a pure entertainment vehicle with slightly relaxed performance standards. Having seen Lewis in Les Mis and Porgy & Bess, where he was incredible both times, I can’t say the same about him as the Phantom. 3 out of 5 stars.

    1. I, like you, was really looking forward to seeing Norm in this role. I, too, was left disappointed. He was not terrible, don’t get me wrong, but it felt very…mechanical. Also, the second act was very rushed and the ending had almost no emotion to it. I hate that I am saying this but that’s what I feel.

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