On Saturday 1st November 2014, I attended Caribbean Theatre Productions‘ Youth Group Production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” at Queen’s Hall, which was directed by Helmer Hilwig. Based on the 1910 horror novel by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera is a tragic love story between a deformed composer who haunts the Paris Opera House and a beautiful young soprano star-to-be who he has been tutoring, and how the entrance of a handsome suitor from her past results in the Phantom going into a jealous rage, terrorizing the opera house owners and company with his murderous ways. Still, Christine finds herself drawn to the mystery man.
Phantom of the Opera is the longest running Broadway Musical, and to produce it; and do it well, is a huge undertaking that comes with a lot of expectations and I knew whether good, bad or indifferent, I probably should write about it. The thing is, I usually judge the theatre by very high standards, and I have become very critical about things as I continue to grow in the industry. While as far as possible I try to balance being honest and kind, I know that my reviews occasionally come across as crass, so up to this point I have not reviewed any school or ‘amateur’ productions, and this production was licensed and billed as an amateur show. The tickets weren’t amateur price though, but we’ll get to that. I am aware how sensitive young actors can be, SO THIS IS NOT A REVIEW! I’m just talking my mind. At the same time, I think we NEED more honest reviews, especially from people who know what’s what, and it should be noted that to survive in this business, in order to grow… actors need to have a thick skin.
“Acting is about honesty. If we are not willing consider the less than glowing reviews then we are being dishonest with ourselves.” ~ Triston Wallace
Yes, I just quoted myself. lol.
We in the business ought not take it [less than glowing reviews] personally, but rather glean from it what makes sense, and what can be learned. With that said, Phantom did have many things going for it. It really succeeded at creating a visual spectacle that made me feel… “Well yes! Ah in Ting!” but the performance aspect of it left somethings to be desired. Let’s go into more detail shall we.
This production really pulled out all the stops with regard to the sets, props and costumes. They were AWESOME!!! The Elephant in the “Hannibal” Opera scene; the ENTIRE set for the Hannibal Opera scene; the Phantom’s Lair; the Motorized boat that effectively created the illusion of traveling on water, and the Ballroom for Masquerade were especially Amazeballs!!! The spectacle was astounding and set you up for a really top class, professional show. But then there were things… little things.. either isolated, or recurring that I am positive were less likely to occur with actors with more training/experience. Then you remember… oh yeah, this is a youth group thing. It is said that the devil is in the details, and it is the details that can make or break a production, and the biggest devil of all was CHARACTERIZATION.
“Acting technique is paramount to anyone wanting to be a serious actor. It’s quite easy to imitate a character or even an emotion, but there’s no depth in that. How can you sustain or repeat again what you might have found intuitively? Do you even know what you did or how you did it? The technique, however, will help you find a character, which in turn informs how you approach the text/script/written word. How do you bring the dialogue alive? How do you know what choices to make? The goal of a trained actor is to become a fully realised three-dimensional character” ~ Dee Cannon
I would have loved to see more characterization, especially from the main actors. I felt no chemistry between the Phantom and Christine… AT ALL!! According to the story, the phantom has had a powerful hold over Christine for many years. I would have like to have seen that. I would have liked to see a reaction…a change… (you know how Olivia Pope gets all hot and bothered when she is in the presence of Fitz?… If you don’t know you better ask some body), a… something manifest in Christine when she is in the presence of the phantom, but especially when the audience hears his voice for the first time. That was the point where that connection should have been established.
The sound design for when we first hear the phantom was excellent though. It sounded as if he was coming from all over Queen’s Hall… not like surround sound, but more like he’s everywhere and no where at the same time. Carlotta I felt could have been bigger, grander, larger than life, only because she is an “Opera Diva”, which if you ask me is redundant for OVER THE TOP. I mean.. have you seen Anne Fridal sing the national anthem for the Summit of the Americas? That is what I’m talking about. Lol. That being said, Raquel Winchester [Christine] and Anneliese Kelly [Carlotta]… Dat is voice from voice land! Crisp, clear and clean! Every note on point. I may even be so bold as to describe it as Seraphic.
Nicholas Gordon was impressive as phantom. His dramatic voice and performance was well suited for the Phantom, though there were instances I felt that he should pull back… and that one time, that scene in the phantom’s lair during “Phantom of the Opera” when he beckons Christine to sing… that one time I wanted him… expected him to push more, left me wanting. I also questioned a couple of his choices, but that is a whole other story by itself. Still, I felt he portrayed the phantom well.
Kyle Richardson was one of the stronger male performers, if not the strongest, and his raspy voice added a very interesting texture to his musical numbers; especially his duets with Christine. My only critique is that his walk was misplaced or perhaps even inappropriate. It was a 21st century type walk…. and not just 21st century like many of the other males in the ensemble (which bothered me to no end), it was 21st century model on a runway walk. So on top of it being misplaced it was also very distracting. It did not suit his character; Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, but more importantly it did not suit the time and place in which the Phantom of the Opera was set; 19th Century, France. If there was anyone who embodied the posture appropriate for the period, it was Tiana Chandler; upright and sharp on her heels as her character Madam Giry is with her tongue.
I absolutely loved the dynamics between the new owners of the Opéra Populaire; Andre [Joshua Gouveia] and Firmin [Rondell Mungal] and the impeccable timing in delivering the comedic lines that was wrote…*written* (Phantom Joke). Other notable performers were Chelsea Uddenberg as Meg Giry and Savionne Burke who; as the Auctioneer in the prologue, successfully solicited members of the audience to participate in the bidding wars. There was one very enthusiastic bidder with a beard a couple rows ahead of me and a child somewhere to my left who was continually being hushed by the adult he was there with. Finally, the not to be forgotten The Cascade Festival Ballet dancers who complimented every scene they were in.
A FEW MORE THINGS BEFORE I WRAP THIS UP:
1. The stage hands slowed down the pace of the show. They needed to walk with some purpose. Even if the style and direction allows you to be seen.
2. There was a male voice that was sticking out from the ensemble, on top of which it was quite off. Listen to each other and work on the choral blend.
3. More Balance was needed in the audio system. Mics fell in and out (although rarely).
4. It may have been an accident or it may have been the director’s intention, to have the sound of the Organ be a very dominant presence in the production; If it was then good choice, but the Keyboard needed to be taken down a notch… just a notch to still have a strong presence without being abrasive.
5. The Chandelier was underwhelming! Either in itself or because everyone was raving about it so my expectations were through the roof. To my disappointment, the experience did not live up to that expectation.
6. The Masquerade Ball was my FAVORITE scene ever. The Choreography was simple yet elegant and it’s execution was flawless, which made it among one of most memorable moments in the production. In hindsight though, I came to discover that the choreography was copied directly from the Broadway production (which is bad enough), but make matters worse, another somebody, a local somebody, was credited as the choreographer, so as a budding choreographer myself, this lack of integrity, this blatant plagiarism vexed me so much so that when I think back to the Masquerade Ball, my feelings are mixed… because although it was stolen choreography, the cast performed the hell out of it.
If this were a review, I would not know by what standard; Amateur or Professional, to measure this production, but maybe I am not meant to. I have come to the conclusion that this production can probably be best described as a “Professional Production with Amateur Actors”. But if we’re looking for absolutes, by Amateur standard I’ll say the Phantom of the Opera was very good. perhaps even great. I am nit picky so I would hardly ever rate something as excellent, but I can see other patrons rating it as such. By Professional Standards it wasn’t bad; but a definite improvement from West Side Story and Les Miserables and I can only expect that the quality of shows would continue to improve with each successive production and I will definitely recommend that it is something you experience. If you have seen it already however, what did you think of it? COMMENT BELOW, LET ME KNOW! Congratulations Cast and Crew and Break A leg at your final performance
The Phantom of the Opera concludes its run at Queen’s Hall on Sunday 2nd Nov at 5pm- $200, $250 (general) $350 (reserved).
P.S. See what I mean a bout the tickets not being amateurly priced?… told you we’d get back to that.