Set Pieces -- Phantom in Toronto
by Paul S. Jenkins
August 10, 2000

Some months ago I went to see The Phantom of the Opera -- the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical. I saw it in Toronto, though I understand the production is the same world-wide. The irony of flying half-way across the globe and seeing a production that originated in my home country was not lost on me.

Phantom is very popular and we were lucky to get tickets at very short notice. I had, of course, heard about the chandelier.

The first act started with an auction -- the disposal of notorious artifacts from the famous opera house -- and then the scene was set, immediately launching from the drab, dust-sheet-covered stage, into an astonishing flashback where the opera house came alive again, drapes hauling roofward in their former glorious color, props uncovered in pristine clarity, and the enormous chandelier gathering itself up -- flickering lights persisting to a steady glow -- rising majestically upwards and outwards over the stalls, ascending in glory to its rightful place at the very top of the Pantages auditorium. All this to splendid rousing orchestration. Oh yes! What a beginning! We're in for a treat tonight!

Or so I thought. There were two other scenes of similar quality to that remarkable opening coup de theatre: One when the diva was lured away by the Phantom, traversing an inclined catwalk back and forth as it zig-zagged its way above the stage; the other a scene where the Phantom punted the diva across a mist-shrouded river, as a myriad of what appeared to be lighted candles arose from the deep. This scene was repeated in the second half. In another colorful scene everyone wore elaborate, intricate and unique costumes and pranced up and down a wide staircase. As for the chandelier -- it crashed onto the stage just before the interval. Or rather, it descended gracefully and landed like Dumbo-on-a-hovercraft. They couldn't crash it, of course, else they'd have to re-assemble it every day (and twice on Saturdays). After the splendid opening this was a serious anticlimax, and yet we were only half-way through.

But in fact it was already over by half-time. I've seen a fair number of shows, including Les Miserables, Guys and Dolls, Show Boat, Starlight Express, amongst others, and more recently a London revival of Oklahoma!; I was expecting great things from Lloyd-Webber, especially as Phantom is so well reputed, and because I've enjoyed more than one production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I know that Lloyd-Webber can write a good tune.

The Phantom of the Opera suffered from extended stretches of banality, and though it had three truly stunning set pieces, including a magnificent opening, the rest of the evening failed to deliver on their promise.

(This review originally appeared in The Rev-Up Review Pages. Used with permission.)

Copyright 2000 Paul S. Jenkins