There are times in your life when you get to experience something that changes who you are. Last night, I had the priviledge of getting to see, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera at the beautiful and historic Orpheum Theatre in Memphis. I have seen both movie versions and anyone I’ve spoken with has told me what a magnificent production this musical brings to stage. I thought I was prepared, but I was not. I walked into the Orpheum last night expecting to be dazzled and amazed and the show did not disappoint. It was bigger than anything I could have imagined and the music was magical all by itself.
The Orpheum Theatre underwent a 10 million dollar renovation back in 1996 so that they could bring shows of this size to Memphis. I for one, am very appreciative and impressed like always that Memphis and more specifically, Pat Halloran and The Orpheum Theatre have worked so tirelessly to lure these Broadway productions to our little city. My first musical was Mary Poppins and it was a show that will always be at the top of the list in my heart of favorites, but The Phantom of the Opera shot straight to the top with it’s beautiful costuming, elaborate sets, superb story-teling and haunting melodies.
The Phantom of the Opera is based on the book by Gaston Leroux and was first published as a serialisation in France in 1909. I grew up seeing the 1925 Lon Chaney version once or twice and then I finally got the see the 2005 film version a couple of years ago. The older film version is a classic Universal monster movie with plenty of bad acting and a story line that while consistant is very predictable and boring. I never once thought of the movie as a love story until I saw Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum. When I saw Phantom at The Orpheum last night, I saw a part of the story that I had never felt so strongly before. Not only is it about love and obsession, but it’s about the unfairness of life and the heartbreak it can hold. There’s a scene in a cemetary that Christine sings to her dead father, and the words to that song, “Wishing you were Somehow here Again” made my heart ache in such a powerful way. And each time the Phantom would sing to Christine, I fell in love with the monster and understood his anguish and his psychoses.
Towards the end of the show, the Phantom is finally unmasked and the monster beneath is revealed and though horrifying, it was so human in it’s portrayal that it’s marked my heart forever. When he kisses Christine and she kisses him back, I sobbed in my seat. The Phantom had never been given a kiss or allowed one to be given back, not even by his mother. The absolute humanity in that scene from both actors could be felt all the way up to balcony center. A triumph for the human race.
I know some of you will laugh at me when I tell you that this show changed my life last night, but there are some of you who know me well enough to know that I believe that life is an ever evolving, ever changing experience and that the only true purpose in life is love and how you give it and receive it. The human heart is the most profound and important thing that we possess and when you spend three hours watching a rendering of ourselves in our most human, basic form and you also put that together with a live orchestra, extraordinarily talented actors and lyrics that simply pull at your soul, you have a life changing experience.
What a show!