THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, directed by Harold Prince (Mirvish/Cameron Mackintosh/Really Useful Theatre). At Princess of Wales (300 King West). To June 3. $26.50-$106.50. 416-872-1212. See Continuing in theatre listings. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
You can't keep a popular opera ghost down. Witness The Phantom Of The Opera , Andrew Lloyd Webber 's musical juggernaut, which has made theatrical history for its longevity around the world. The original Toronto run, which began in 1989, ended a decade later. The touring version of the show now at the Princess of Wales proves two things: that the real star of the show is director Hal Prince and that you need a really good singing actor to play the Phantom.
It's a pretty sumptuous production, perhaps not as lavish as the original Toronto version, but Maria Bjornson 's sets - huge swag curtains, underground lakes and grand operatic designs - as well as Andrew Bridge 's lighting give the show a real sense of spectacle.
Many people love Webber's score; others find it sometimes haunting but more often annoyingly repetitious. The operatic emphasis, with nods to Puccini and Rossini, is clear but not especially well exploited. The wan lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe are of the rhymed, wait-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop variety.
The performances here are mostly only adequate. Marni Raab 's Christine and Michael Gillis 's Raoul are thinly characterized and only adequately sung. We never sense she's really in distress, either emotionally or physically, nor that he's the dashing figure who can save her. Worse, there's not a molecule of chemistry between this pair, who have supposedly loved each other since childhood.
Thankfully, the Phantom of John Cudia supplies all the necessary vocal and acting skills. Desire, sensuality, menace, love, revenge, even a touch of compassion - they're all part of Cudia's repertoire, even though he's hidden first behind the Phantom's mask and then his fright makeup. He's the kind of performer who can communicate all his emotions vocally, and does so impressively.
It's he who injects the show's one solemn note – the possibility of seduction by the dark side – and occasionally raises this variation on the Beauty And The Beast tale above two-dimensional melodrama.
A few of the supporting roles have some spark. John Whitney milks laughs as the hammy tenor Piangi, while Kim Stengel gives a bit of dignity as well as parody to the prima donna Carlotta, and Rebecca Judd adds a touch of the sinister Mrs. Danvers to the black-garbed ballet mistress Madame Giry.
Forget about understanding the words in any group-sung number, though; the lyrics are unintelligible.
The real hero here is director Prince, who sparks the show by moving scenes along quickly, diverting our attention all over the stage area and working to suggest the grand passions of opera in both the onstage and offstage scenes. He sure knows how to entertain an audience, even if the book and music he gets to work with are pretty wan.