Some longstanding shows feel astonishingly fresh in 2017, amidst this year's invigorated discussions of equity and harassment. Not Phantom of the Opera, which is so retrograde that you can imagine Donald Trump deeply identifying with the phantom. "He's a celebrity! He ought to be able to do anything he wants! But she doesn't appreciate him, just because he's physically disfigured. With these small hands, I know how it is."
Whatever people see in Phantom, they see it a lot. Thirty-one years after its West End premiere, Andrew Lloyd Webber's lugubrious musical is still an unstoppable commercial force. Until Disney's Lion King musical edged it out in 2014, Phantom held claim to being the most financially successful entertainment event of all time. Who knew that one janky chandelier could rake in so much dough?
Of course, Phantom is more than a single chandelier — that's just lot 666 in the contents of the aptly-named Opéra Populaire, which also includes a subterranean lakeside lair, an anatomically-correct rooftop sculpture of Apollo, and a trick two-way mirror, which needless to say is conveniently installed in the corps de ballet dressing room.
The Phantom production currently installed at the Orpheum Theatre as part of its never-ending national tour also includes plenty of pyrotechnics and a surround-sound system that allows the Phantom to throw his voice back and forth across the cheap seats. He's everywhere! And...nowhere. Shazam!
Producer Cameron Mackintosh and director Laurence Connor conceived the 25th anniversary production as a grittier, darker take that pushed the characters' personalities to the fore. The result is a smooth, atmospheric piece of stagecraft, but it also feels like copying a velvet Elvis onto a conventional canvas: missing the point.
This material is intrinsically over-the-top, and while Webber was undeniably touched by the Muse for the luxurious melodies of "Think of Me" and "All I Ask of You," the Muse must have been out for a Gauloise when Webber wrote the script with Richard Stilgoe.
Now more than ever, the musical plays like a textbook example of why the patriarchy is not just oppressive, but boring. As Christine gets tugged between the fascist Phantom and the bland Raoul, she doesn't have choices so much as crises. If Michael Bay directed a musical, this would be it: every time you have a second to think about what exactly is going on, the set transforms and something blows up.
The show's simple-mindedness is made poignant by the presence of Eva Tavares in the role of Christine. She nails the industrial-strength vocals Phantom demands, but relaxes into a pure and sweet tone for the gentler duets. In the title role, Derrick Davis (who hands it over to Quentin Oliver Lee on Dec. 19) is suitably snarling, though stronger as a singer than an actor. Every time he gets especially worked up, he jump-starts like someone just dropped the lid on a piano. In fairness, all those explosions must be hell on the nerves.