Thursday, April 16, 2009

Oh Hale Center Theater, What Have You Done?

Note - please forgive the typos. I did this in a hurry.

Last night Melissa and I went to the musical “Phantom” at Hale Center Theater. I was really looking forward to it. Everything I’ve seen at Hale has been good, and live theater is always fun. We knew that this was a different version of Phantom (this is where I stop using “…”, too much work), not the Andrew Lloyd Weber production that everyone knows so well, and we were interested to see what they’d done with it. If we’d known before hand what they’d done, I don’t know that we would have been quite so excited about going.

I’ll say first that the singing was wonderful. Every performer had a great voice, really great. The caliber of talent was top notch. It’s really remarkable how good performers in a community theater can be.

Having said that…the script for this show was pretty much ridiculous. In the program we read that they purposely tried to make the Phantom more human. Well if being more human means kind of a pansy and maybe bi-polar, then they nailed it.

In his first scene, Phantom finds someone in his dungeon, and promptly kills him. He is later up in the stage area of the opera house, talking with a man who is apparently a long time friend, I don’t remember his name, so let’s call him George, and asking George why he failed in his protective duties by letting someone down in the dungeon, leaving Phantom with no options other than running him through with a sword. George is very remorseful, and tells Phantom that he is no longer the manager of the opera house. He’s been replaced by an awful couple who have inherited the place. George keeps calling Phantom Eric. What? Eric? What kind of name is that for THE Phantom of the Opera? Well according to these guys it’s a perfectly good name. So Phantom, aka Eric, calms down a bit and the conversation turns more jovial. George gets after Eric for being so uptight, and Eric laughingly says that he’s never killed before; it kind of threw him off. If I had been a part of the conversation, this is I would have fallen into a stunned and awkward silence, and then I would have told Phantom to get back to his underground lair and try to be more manly, mysterious, intriguing, Phantom-like, no more laughing it up with the locals, and don’t come out until you’ve got it right.

The rest of the first half went along alright. Like I said, the singing was wonderful. Remember the awful couple who inherited the opera house? Well they of course were our villains, and she reminded me very much of the sea witch Ursula from The Little Mermaid. That had to be where she pulled her inspiration for the role. We get through the story up to the scene where the chandelier comes falling from the ceiling and everyone runs in horror because obviously this proves that the opera house really is haunted. Of course, if they had known that the haunters name was Eric, they wouldn’t have worried so much.

It was in the conclusion of the story, after intermission, that a kind of cheesy but otherwise good play really fell apart. Christine was taken to the dungeons by Phantom and was being held there. He runs off to do something evil, and George shows up to have a talk with Christine. He tried to convince her to follow him and get out while she can, but she doesn’t want to leave “the Maestro” as she calls him without a word. George then tells Christine that she reminds him of someone he once knew, Eric’s mother, and that he is Eric’s father. What the what? Yes, Phantom has a father. He fell in love with a girl long ago. She was beautiful; she could dance and sing; he was enraptured. But, when she came to him with the news that she was pregnant, he couldn’t marry her because he was married already. Oh the horror! (Actually, I honestly cringed when that came out because honestly, do we really want to go there? Is this how we try to bring shock, irony, sadness, grittiness to the story? Bah, whatever). So the girl hides herself in the catacombs beneath the opera house and has her baby. Oh wait, first she drinks something to try to kill either herself or the baby, we don’t know which, and then she hides in the opera house. George finds her there, and the baby, who is horribly disfigured, but she loves her son absolutely anyway. I guess whatever it was that she drank hoping to kill them both but instead maimed her child also erased her memory of the fact that she had ruined both of their lives, and made her the picture of motherly love. Well the mother dies. George makes a mask to cover Eric’s face, and “raised him as best I could” by making him stay in the catacombs of the opera house.

So now we’re back to the present, and with a greater understanding of why Phantom/Eric is bi-polar. Phantom in the mean time is getting even with Ursula the sea witch for all of her nasty deeds by electrocuting her to death. Then the police show up, and there’s a chase, and fisticuffs, no not fisticuffs, but some gun violence, and Phantom is shot, but is able to get away. George finds him on the stage, wounded and bleeding.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, after Christine learns about George, and the Phantom’s mother, but maybe before the electrocution, definitely before the shooting, Christine and Phantom sing a love song, and she convinces him to show her his face. He does, and she runs away in horror, screaming as only a true soprano can.

So now George and Phantom are on the stage, and Phantom is loosing blood, and you get the sense that his end is near. George tells Phantom that Christine never meant to hurt him, and he says that he knows that. He’s feeling more gentle know, kinder and willing to forgive. Electrocuting the sea witch was therapeutic. It seemed like a good time for a father and son heart-to-heart. George confesses that he is Phantom’s father. Phantom says that he’s known all along, and they sing a tender song about the beauty of music and growing up in a dungeon beneath an opera house, and Eric’s mother, and isn’t it nice that we’re together as father and son now, all sprinkled with some humor. George tells Eric that his mother always thought that his deformed face was beautiful, which makes Eric ask his father what he thought of it. George smiles and says, “Well, it could have been better.” Ha ha! Eric asks his father to please bury him in the catacombs when he’s dead, to which George sings with gusto, “I will not put you on display”, holding “display” long and loud. It was the least he could do. The Phantom finally finds peace.

Christine and the others find them. There are more gun shots, and Phantom meets his end in the arms of his love Christine, who sings to him that he is music and all things beautiful. Tears were shed. I had for some time by this point been trying so hard not to laugh that I was exhausted. I giggled all the way out of the theater, and finally when we got to the car let it go. We both laughed long and hard, and agreed that the whole “Phantom I am your father” scene has got to go.

I think that this weekend we will rent the movie version of the real Phantom of the Opera to cleanse our brains. I’ve heard that the movie is good, Melissa liked it, and I would like very much to see the Phantom in all his glory again. In the mean time, thinking of the Phantom/Eric character still makes me giggle a little.


Nicole said...

Ahahahahahahaha! Poor Hale Center Theater...those guys need to get out more.

I await your review of the movie of Phantom. Fair warning, though, I'd probably slap Emmie Rossum if I met her in real life. Her eyes are bugging out all the time. Someone needs to slap her so she'll stop freaking out.

Kelli said...

I have heard of this other version as they have done it at various high schools and community theaters in these parts! Now I am not sorry that I missed them.

Melissa said...

Great summary! I totally agree the great cast deserved a much better story!