The Phantom takes his last bow

It won the Tony Award for Best Musical probably around the time your parents were getting married. It has made more than $5.1 billion worldwide. If you have been hiding under a rock and have not seen The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, the West End or in 23 other countries, you can see the famous play at the final stop of its national tour at the Pantages Theatre, the same theater where the tour began 20 years ago.

Photos by Joan Marcus and Cylla Von Tiedemann, courtesy of Broadway L.A.

This time, the dusty chandelier in the musical’s prologue really is a relic. As the theater comes to life, with the show’s thunderous overture and the audience’s wild applause, this tale of love and obsession shows why it still sells out in theaters everywhere it goes.

The story remains unchanged. A deformed musical genius becomes obsessed with his student, Christine Daaé, a chorus girl in the Opera Populaire. On the night of her first triumph, she reunites with Raoul, her handsome childhood friend. From there, it’s murder, madness and a dark, painful love story.

Like all of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows, Phantom comes loaded with camp, spectacle and melodrama. The show pokes fun at opera, has brilliant stunts such as a crashing chandelier, and has just enough Gothic romance to be forbiddingly sexy. But Phantom is a legend not just because of the gilt and glitz. There is a reason why Phantom is the longest-running musical on Broadway.

It’s the tragedy — the story of a lonely, disfigured man and his maniacal love for the only light in his life and the dark allure of swirling capes and an underground lair of music and candlelight. But such trappings come with a high dose of melodrama. It takes a skilled cast to make the audience see the human emotion behind the candelabras.

Tim Martin Gleason, who plays the Phantom, has the most complex role in the cast. He nails the Phantom’s vulnerability with cringing gestures and a childlike sadness.  However, the Phantom is also a masked loony who garrotes people for fun and keeps a life-sized Christine doll in his bedroom.

Actors who embrace the character’s darkness have the ability to make the role far more powerful and alluring. Leaving the show feeling sympathy toward this tortured soul is The Phantom of the Opera’s most compelling draw. Although Gleason does well, there has been better.

The roles of Christine and Raoul are far simpler, to the point that all they need are good actors to step up and give them life. As Christine, Trista Moldovan has a strong voice, but in situations where the character would fade into the background, so does the actress. However, she comes back stronger in the actual songs, such as the fiery “Point of No Return.”

Even if Raoul is not the character you cheer for at the end, Sean MacLaughlin takes what can be a foppish role and makes him a dashing hero — with a deep, gorgeous voice to match. He is fantastic; it’s not his fault if he out-sings the Phantom.

With all the tragic romance and dark seduction, Phantom needs a comedic balance. That is where the supporting cast comes in. Kim Stengel and Luke Grooms are hilarious as a pair of snotty opera singers — with seriously awesome vocals beneath all the satire — while D.C. Anderson and Michael McCoy are a hilarious duo as the opera’s new and frequently flabbergasted managers.

The Phantom of the Opera has never been a brilliant show from a musical standpoint — the tunes are hardly as complex as a work of Sondheim and the lyrics can often be obvious and blunt. But when the music has you humming or downloading the cast recording off iTunes, the show has done something right.

The show’s other elements are starting to reflect their age. The orchestrations, particularly the title song, have picked up more crunchy guitar work, perhaps to appeal to all the young fans drawn in by the movie.

The costumes, showcased in the kaleidoscopic splendor of the song “Masquerade,” are as lush and beautiful as ever. The foggy lake, floating candelabras and crashing chandelier are still impressive, but other effects, such as the Phantom’s fireball-shooting walking stick, don’t have the same thrill they once did. The show still has the power of its 1986 debut, but the fatigue of 20 years on the road is obvious.

Ultimately, the chandelier never quite shakes off all the dust of the prologue. After this final stop, the Phantom has earned a rest. The last performance will be Oct. 31, a fitting send-off. Fans should not see this as the end of an era, but the chance for something fresh a few years down the line. Plus, given the raging cheers at the end of the show, the fans prove the Phantom will never remain in the grave.