My first show of this NYC trip was The Phantom of the Opera yesterday at 2pm. This is the fifth time I’ve seen it but only the second time in New York; it was my first Broadway show in February 1999. Wow, and here I am exactly sixteen years later, in the same theatre seeing the same show. My theatre friends were poking fun at me for seeing it alongside so many new shows (“Do you have insomnia? Is that why you chose Phantom?”), but the fact is I was taking a friend who had never seen it and there was a Thursday matinee, meaning I didn’t have to sacrifice seeing another show in its place.
James Barbour was great as The Phantom, squeaky shoes aside during the scene where he crawls across the stage. He is a controversial choice as he served time for a sex offense years ago, but a guy has to make a living, right? And he is talented. Would I recommend him to be a mentor for teenage girls? No, but can I recommend his competent and strong performance as The Phantom? Sure. They just need to change his shoes.
Kaley Ann Voorhees as Christine and Jeremy Hays as Raoul were refreshing after seeing others walk through those parts on tour. Hays in particular avoids the cardboard clichés so easy to fall into with that part, and his blonde, unkempt hair adds to his charm. I can’t say as much for some of the supporting players, as a few of them seemed to react a split second before things happened; a few of the chorus girls looked and moved like forty-five year-old divorcées.
The production is still grand and runs like clockwork, and the sound was remarkably clear and directional, save for a buzzy mic that was silenced quickly during the scene on the rooftop. I much prefer this original production to the “new” one currently on tour. That new production (NOT directed by Hal Prince) has a rotating set piece that has the show appearing smaller and cheaper, and it is without the great staircase for “Masquerade” at the top of the second act.
An interesting thing happened while I was waiting outside the theatre for my friend to arrive. I was standing in front of the doors onto which a large photo of the “Masquerade” scene was affixed. A man was walked by, stopped, looked back, and then asked me, “Excuse me, sir, what kind of establishment IS this?” He pointed to the doors behind me. I said it was a theatre where they perform The Phantom of the Opera, and he then shook his head and walked on. Did he think it was some kind of club? Did he somehow miss the sign to my right proclaiming it to be Broadway’s longest running musical?