Phantom of the Byrd Theater
Hello, Internet! Cole here. Last week, the Byrd Theater hosted a fundraising performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic play, Phantom of the Opera. I, of course, was in attendance, since this introduction wouldn’t make sense otherwise. The play was okay – not great or excellent, just okay. The actors put forth a clear effort, and it was quite impressive in regard to costume design and performance; however, the experience was irreversibly damaged by the play’s Second Half. I will explain what I mean by this shortly. First, however, I’m going to go over everything else; I could honestly talk about the Second Half all day, but that would be poor form without the context of the rest of the play.
I’ll start off by discussing perhaps the most solid part of the play overall: the performance. The play was staffed with both professional actors and upstarts, and the acting was firm all around; even the child actors had memorized their lines fairly well and didn’t overact – or underact – to a noticeable extreme. Probably the best of the troupe was the Phantom – the actor used a smooth, Victorian style of eloquence interspersed with loud, intense outbursts to create a frightening, temperamental character whose obsession knew no bounds.
In addition to a decent amount of talent, the performers also sported an exemplary wardrobe. The costumes were distinctly Victorian. Most of the men wore business suits and top hats, though some wore plainer clothing; the women donned vibrant, strongly-colored dresses of all shapes and sizes. Unlike in most plays I’d seen before, the characters changed their costumes throughout the play; the main character, for example, changed from a dark purple dress to a bright red one at one point. The costumes were never distracting, though – while they were elegant, they were never so elegant as to detract from the rest of the play.
For the most part, the stage was not so fancifully decorated. In fact, during the first half of the play, there was no real set decoration at all. My dad justified this initial design choice as the result a lack of space in which to put things, and I was not bothered by it because the Byrd Theater, with its old-fashioned, elegant style and its multicolored chandelier, more or less served as a backdrop in and of itself. In the Second Half, however, Dad’s claim was proven incorrect; two candelabras, a table of some sort, and a fog machine all appeared on the stage at once. (Believe me, this is far from the Second Half’s only inconsistency, and it’s hardly the most jarring.)
That’s all I have to say about the technical aspects of the play. Now, I’m going to discuss the narrative . . . of the first half. The first half followed an opera singer named Christine, who was being courted (coerced?) in secret by Eric, the eponymous Phantom. The plot thickened as her childhood friend, Raoul, fell in love with her and vowed to find and stop Eric from stealing her heart – for reasons both selfish and unselfish. Interspersed with this main plot was a subplot in which the characters portraying the new owners of the theater, who did not believe that the Phantom actually existed, failed to comply with Eric’s demands. This subplot ended with the Phantom sabotaging the chandelier in the middle of one of the other performers’ big moments, causing it to “fall” and end the first half.
This, of course, leads us into the Second Half. Before I begin discussing this segment, however, I need to get a few things out of the way first:
-Apparently, the running time of Phantom is normally somewhere around the range of 2 to 3 hours. The show I went to was initially planned to be two hours long without any sort of intermission – setting it on the lower end of running time right from the start. As such, it may have had to cut certain corners.
-This production being my only exposure to Phantom of the Opera, I’m not entirely sure which sections may or may not have been omitted for brevity. It’s entirely possible, in fact, that I somehow missed something crucial during the play that would have greatly augmented my understanding of the transition between acts. In any case, I can certainly speak for my own confusion.
The Second Half went as follows, directly out of the intermission: Christine was taken to a hidden chamber by Eric that was, according to outside narration (an element not seen in the first act), connected to another chamber where Raoul and some other characters were imprisoned. Eric proposed to her and set her up with a sort of mechanism with two switches, one shaped like a scorpion and the other like a grasshopper. She was told that the scorpion meant “yes” and the grasshopper meant “no”, and she was also told that if she selected the grasshopper, the building would be detonated with gunpowder. After a period of internal debate over whether the Phantom was telling the truth about the nature of the switches, Christine selected the scorpion, which flooded the chamber rather than exploding it. She then firmly asserted that she did not and could not love the Phantom, which finally broke him; he let her go, and he then died of a broken heart. Cue curtain call and confused Cole.
My biggest problem with the Second Half was that its connection with the events that came before the intermission was tenuous at best. The same actors played the same characters, of course, and the overall plot was about the same; the details of the sections, however, were completely at odds with one another. The first half let its events speak for themselves; the Second Half added voiceover narration in an attempt to clarify them. The first half had sparse on-set decoration; the Second Half saw the use of candelabras and a fog machine. The first half took its sweet time in establishing the details; the second half rushed its details on in rapid succession. Even if the missing elements of the plot were easy to glean from certain details, the complete difference in style would still create a high degree of confusion.
All in all, though, the play was alright. There was a clear amount of effort and love put into it, and it managed to captivate me during its first half with its sense of style and focus. If this play were re-performed, however, the producers would have to focus on connecting both acts. All in all, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5.12 stars. Thanks for reading, Internet, and I’ll be seeing ya’!
Cole is our young adult monthly contributor. He is an incredible asset to all of us. He is in the IT program in Henrico County, has Asperger’s and is also an animal whisperer.