Review: Phantom of the Opera, U.S. Tour, Cleveland (August 22, 2010, evening).
Phantom: David Gaschen (understudy).
Christine: Kelly Jeanne Grant (alternate).
Raoul: Sean MacLaughlin.
Andre: D. C. Anderson.
Firmin: Michael McCoy.
Carlotta: Kim Stengel.
Madame Giry: Nancy Hess.
Meg: Paloma Garcia-Lee.
Piangi: Luke Grooms.
This was the last performance of the Cleveland run of POTO, which is saying a lot, because the national tour is coming to an end. There were banners hanging outside the Allen Theatre which said: “Tonight belongs to The Phantom... Last Ohio engagement!). This was also the tenth time I’ve seen POTO; it was quite bitter sweet for me, because every time I’ve seen the show, it’s been the national tour (I first saw POTO when I was 14, and I’m now 29).
My friend Mary and I sat in row L, which was quite close to the stage (we could see facial expressions clearly), but we were all the way to the left, so our view was occasionally obstructed.
...Thoughts on the scenes...
“Prologue” and “Overture:” The first knock of the auctioneer’s gavel never fails to give me chills, nor does the first note of the overture. I love the moment of anticipation, when they pull back the dustcover just a bit to show you the chandelier. I also was impressed by the acting skills of the actor who played the auctioneer; he clearly observed Raoul with interest.
“Think of Me,” Hannibal, etc: Very good. I’ve seen Kim Stengel play Carlotta a few times, and she still seems to be having a lot of fun with all the over-the-top opera diva stuff. Luke Grooms was funny as Piangi; he looked kind of young, though. Nancy Hess wasn’t quite as commanding as some Mme Girys I’ve seen, but she was appropriately spooky. Kelly Jeanne Grant sang “Think of Me” beautifully; I usually can’t make up my mind about actresses playing Christine until the second act, though.
“Angel of Music” and “Little Lotte:” Like most Megs, Paloma Garcia-Lee had a small voice, but it wasn’t uncomfortably tiny. She was very convincing, and she seemed to have a very good rapport with Christine. Sean MacLaughlin played Raoul as very much the nobleman-with-a-sense-of-entitlement. He reminded me of my “baby phan” days, when I saw no value in Raoul whatsoever.
“The Mirror” and “Phantom of the Opera:” It took me a few minutes to make up my mind about David Gaschen’s voice. I prefer tenors as The Phantom, and he seemed to be a baritone. Unfortunately, due to the fact that our seats were all the way to the left, I couldn’t see The Phantom at all when he was illuminated behind the mirror. Then, to make matters worse, just after the first verse of the title song, some extremely late theatre-goers had to be seated in the row in front of us. Of course, it was dark, and everybody was taking their time about standing up, walking through, etc. As a result, Mary and I couldn’t see the stage at all for a big portion of the title song. I was literally shaking my fists in frustration. It took me a couple of minutes to calm down; people arriving late at the theatre are a pet peeve of mine (especially since Mary and I had hurriedly wolfed down eggrolls outside the theatre, before rushing inside, after driving up to Cleveland from Columbus).
“The Music of the Night:” I hate having to say this, but I did not really care for David Gaschen’s “Music of the Night.” His voice was good, but I noticed he was enunciating his “s” sounds kind of weirdly at times. What was worse, in my opinion, was the fact that he didn’t seem as expressive with his arms as most Phantoms. As a result, I didn’t think the song came across as appropriately seductive (especially considering the fact that Christine was audibly gasping during the “touch me; trust me” part of the song). Also, Gaschen’s Phantom looked somewhat paunchy; Mary and I both said later that it looked as if he were going to “bust his buttons” of the Phantom’s vest. It’s not that he was fat; he was just stockier than many Phantoms, and it took me a little while to get used to the difference.
“Stranger Than You Dreamt It:” Much to my relief, I quickly learned to love David Gaschen’s Phantom, starting with this scene. I always love watching the Phantom composing at the beginning of this scene, and Gaschen displayed a perfect blend of passion and concentration. At the unmasking, Christine’s screaming was a bit over-the-top, in my opinion. But the Phantom’s rage, then self-loathing, then pleading, was perfect. He conveyed perfectly the rapid mood changes, and the overwhelming pain the Phantom felt at being revealed as “a monster.” From here on out, I became a fan (phan?) of David Gaschen as the Phantom.
“Magical Lasso:” This Buquet was very young, and not bearded, so he didn’t look like what I’m used to for the role. However, he was very creepy, and I had to smile at his delight in having frightened the ballet girls.
“Notes” and “Prima Donna:” I’ve seen D.C. Anderson play Andre a few times before, and I’m happy to report that he is still very fresh and genuine with the role. He did a good job playing nervous opposite Michael McCoy’s shrewd Firmin. Sitting so close to the stage, I was better able to appreciate all the counterpoint and cleverness of this entire scene; the various interactions were both amusing and mesmerizing. It was during this song that I started to notice a slight resemblance between Sean MacLaughlin’s Raoul and a young David Tennant; I’m pretty sure it was the hair. My friend Mary later pointed out to me that he also resembled Christian Bale, especially in the way he walked around, so sure of himself; I definitely agreed, because he really seemed very sure of himself (sidenote: we came up with a ridiculously funny mental picture of Raoul launching into the infamous “Christian Bale rant,” and directing it toward the Phantom).
“Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh:” To my confusion, the actor playing Don Attilio did not hold out the low note at the end of the line: “but shall hide over there to observe her.” Granted, it had been a few years since I last saw POTO, but every other time I’ve seen this show, that was a big moment, played for laughs. I was a little disappointed that it was changed. As always, I loved watching the Phantom on the catwalk above the stage, as well as the “Phantom shadows” during the ballet.
“All I Ask of You” and Reprise: Raoul’s love for Christine really did seem genuine during this scene, but again, he seemed to play Raoul as not much more than a spoiled nobleman. I’ve seen actors play Raoul in the past who gave Raoul more layers, who played him as multi-dimensional. And, as a result, I was able to develop at least some liking for Raoul, and it made more sense that Christine would fall in love with him. Sean MacLaughlin’s acting was not the problem here; it’s his interpretation of the role which I found somewhat problematic. Why would Christine fall in love for someone like Raoul, if there’s nothing more to him than good looks? Which I really must emphasize: Sean MacLaughlin was very handsome. I haven’t mentioned his voice yet, but he really did have a beautiful and powerful singing voice, as well. Once we reached the “All I Ask of You Reprise,” I was convinced more than ever that David Gaschen’s strength was in portraying the pain and maniacal grief of the Phantom when he’s been spurned. I felt a lump in my throat as the Phantom whimpered and cried.
“Masquerade:” Finally, Christine has something more to do than act mesmerized or frightened! Kelly Jeanne Grant appropriately gave Christine a bit more maturity as the second act began. This scene is truly a feast for the senses. Mary and I had been talking about the monkey costume during intermission, so I ended up paying a lot of attention to the actress who wore the monkey costume during this scene. I was very impressed with her; she seemed very into it, and almost seemed to be inviting the audience to join in the festivities. As I mentioned before, David Gaschen was a rather stocky Phantom, so the Phantom “double” who ran down the stairs after “Why So Silent” was very obviously not Gaschen, because the double was much taller and leaner. I already knew it was a double, but it interfered with the whole “suspension of disbelief” thing.
Raoul and Mme. Giry Backstage: I don’t have anything to say about this particular performance, but I just have to say that I think one of the most haunting moments in this show is the overlap of the following lyrics... Mme. Giry: “For in the darkness, I have seen him again,” and Raoul: “And so our Phantom’s this man.”
“Notes” and “Twisted Every Way:” This second “Notes” is definitely more tense, much less fun, than the first “Notes,” as it should be. The audience laughed when Carlotta said “she’s mad,” but it seemed to me that the line was actually not being played for laughs; Carlotta seemed a bit more gentle with Christine after that moment, and so I think that Carlotta really felt sympathy for Christine at that moment. “Twisted Every Way” is one of my important moments for judging the acting ability of actresses who play Christine, and Kelly Jeanne Grant did a good job with the torn emotions. Unfortunately, the last actress I saw play Christine was Elizabeth Southard, and her acting is by far my favorite. Kelly Jeanne Grant was more than adequate as Christine, but I don’t think anybody will ever live up to Elizabeth Sourthard for me, when it comes to acting.
Rehearsal for Don Juan Triumphant : Christine and Meg had interesting interaction when Christine entered, as if Meg were asking Christine if she was sure she wanted to take part, and Christine had made up her mind that she would play Aminta. I found it interesting that when everyone sang the “poor young maiden” verse, only Christine and Mme. Giry remained silent. I knew that Christine didn’t sing that verse, but I had never before noticed that Mme. Giry also remained silent, with her hand on Christine‘s shoulder.
“Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again:” I honestly don’t know if Kelly Jeanne Grant is the only actress to have done this, or if I just never noticed it before, but I was very interested to see how she held the red scarf of her cape during the “Little Lotte” verse, and then later in the song. For the first time, I actually made the connection between the red scarf on the cape, and the red scarf Christine and Raoul sing talked about in the first act; it had never occurred to me that it was the same scarf! I feel pathetically slow-witted at just now having realized this. I was actually worried that I would end up bawling at this song, because this was the first time I’ve seen POTO since my own father died. However, I didn’t cry, probably because Christine came across as rather childlike during the song, and I didn’t identify with it as much as I thought I would.
“Wandering Child:” The chemistry between the Phantom and Christine was strongest in this scene, in my opinion. And the Phantom’s cry of “don’t go!” was almost unbearable. It was during this scene that I started to notice that David Gaschen portrayed the Phantom with a certain man-child aspect when he is feeling desperate. It was quite effective.
Opera Stage Before the Premiere: Again, Raoul was arrogantly sure of himself. What was most notable for me, as always, was the eeriness of the shouts of “secure!” coming from around the theatre.
“Point of No Return:" For a happy moment, I thought that Kelly Jeanne Grant was playing Christine as if she realized it was the Phantom from the start of the song. Her face seemed to convey recognition when the Phantom began singing as Don Juan, and she acted rather ill-at-ease throughout the song, as if she knew what was going on. However, I guess my interpretation of her behavior was wrong, because she acted surprised at feeling the Phantom’s mask underneath the cowl, as all Christine’s do. David Gashen’s Phantom was very sensual during his verse of the song, but not too demonstrative of the lust he felt during Christine’s verse. This all changed when she stood behind him, and he lifted his hands to hers; his hands were violently trembling (I could have melted at this point, of course). His pleading was heartbreaking afterward, and his humiliation was evident when Christine unmasked him in front of everybody.
Final Lair: It’s always during the start of this scene when I think: “Oh, crap; it’s almost over. Have I been appreciating it enough?” Christine’s disillusionment and anger were apparent, as was her eventual empathy and understanding of the Phantom. As I always hope (and as I always find), it was the Phantom who was the star of this scene. As I had noticed earlier, David Gaschen’s Phantom tended to become childlike when he became very desperate. When Christine said that she hated him, he literally seemed to be pleading with her, because her hatred was the worst possible thing he could imagine. Then, of course, he had to collect himself, to try to remain threatening, so that he could achieve his goal. He practically growled the lines: “you try my patience; make your choice,” and it was genuinely frightening. When Christine sang: “pitiful creature of darkness,” the Phantom placed his arms behind his back, as if he were trying to appear as dignified as possible. When Christine kissed him, he seemed shocked, and his hands shook. He was completely distraught when he told Christine and Raoul to leave. He became childlike again when he sang “Masquerade” to the monkey music box. After Christine returned the ring to him, the Phantom sobbed, repeating her name and “I love you” over and over. It was around the moment when he started crying into the wedding veil, when I myself started to cry. After he dragged himself to the throne and sang: “It’s over now: the music of the night,” the tears flowed down my face for two reasons. First, of course, the tragedy and beauty of the story itself had moved me to tears. Secondly, the lyric “It’s over now: the music of the night” means a lot more, with the knowledge that the U.S. National Tour is ending this year.