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.
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!
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.