I again have the fortune of watching another West End hit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) with my family yesterday, September 9, 2012. What I like about Broadway shows is that they are already coming to Manila. Filipinos need not go to New York or London or even just Singapore to watch West End and Broadway shows. I’m just also glad that CCP has allowed these tours to use the main theater, and that the CCP Main Theater has the requirements of the tour.
In my New York visits, I was not able to watch The Phantom of the Opera, and now I am able to see it here in my own home country! It is a joy to be able to watch famous musicals in the Philippines. My family and I were looking forward to this day. I was just raring to watch my favorite Phantom songs sung on stage as opposed to just listening to them.
I have not read in full the plot and sequence of events of the Phantom. In my experience, I would normally see a glimpse of the beauty and majesty of the set design upon entering the theater. What I saw was a gloomy set filled with gray curtains.
The first scene is the auctioning of the items from the closed down opera house. The stage was so dark you could hardly see the faces of the characters, but you could still, though faintly, recognize the emotions from the main character. This first scene lasts for just 5 minutes and as the story flashbacks to the glory days of the Opera House, the gray curtains reveal its original majesty.
First impressions don’t last. They lasted only 5 minutes for this one. 🙂 Now, I don’t want to spoil your viewing of the show by giving too many details, so let me go straight to my humble appreciation for the production.
The set is just amazing. They probably have three different curtains they play with. The effectively used these to fill the stage. In certain scenes, the curtains are half-drawn, almost alluding to the scarred half face of the Phantom. It also effectively covered the other half of the stage for the element of surprise most especially in the opening of Act II with “Masquerade”.
The opera within a musical was a great opportunity to showcase elaborate designs for the three different operas within Phantom. Aside from that, the operas came in the right frequency to break the drama since they also served as a comic relief, and the climax of the show. Genius this Andrew Lloyd Webber indeed!
What you need to watch out for in this production are the visual effects. You would be amazed and you are left to wonder how they would execute the boat ride scenes (how will the boat move on stage?!), the hundred candles that appear suddenly on stage without burning anything. The best scenes and those that require most technology are those set in Phantom’s lair. My favorite scene though is the scene where Christine Daaé bowed down to the audience after her opera performance because suddenly you are brought “backstage” instead of having the feeling of being the audience for the operas. That kinda tickled my brain. 🙂
Another favorite set is Christine’s dressing room with a big mirror where the Phantom appears. The mirror was angled properly to make the tiny dressing room look to have more space.
There is nothing to comment much about set design since standards in design are pretty much dictated upon by the original designers and directors. Same goes with the fidelity to the original script and even acting and dance sequences. What remain are the skills of the members of the cast.
Since I have no basis of comparison for Phantom other than the soundtrack which I have been listening to for many years now, I will give my simple critique of the performers.
The singing is just superb. I should say that their voice quality is comparable and at par with the original performers’. I had a difficult time distinguishing the singers on the live show from the CD. Both are just as good. For the die hard fans, they would probably be disappointed with some singing style that differs slightly from the original, but they are negligible and you should be able to give some leeway to the actors.
I would like of course to give much credit to Dondi Ong, the sole Filipino member of the Phantom cast. I was fortunate to get his insights regarding his stint with Phantom because he was my brother’s good friend. We called him up and met with him outside CCP’s artists’ entrance. A tenor from UP Diliman, Dondi’s classical execution of his parts was spot on. His performance is nothing short of professional. He was able to rehearse and get into his role quickly, and delivered it humorously at that. You also have to give it to him because he is one of the few who needed to do eight – EIGHT! – costume changes during the 2 hour performance, and two major make-up changes which he said he already did on his own. Add to this, he had to bear 5 pound heavy costumes each time. He confessed that he already lost 10 pounds since his joining the cast. You also know that he’s that good, that on the day he auditioned, they were already showing signs of their preference for him. According to Dondi, the casting director already framed his profile and judged that his looks fit the role. They also asked him to sing a portion of the musical on the same day other than his prepared audition piece. To prove further he deserved the spot, they signed him as well for the Korea and Singapore tour (I don’t remember if he’s already going to the Australia tour). It was just supposed to be a token role for a local artist to fill, but they contracted him for other tours as well.
For Phantom fans used to listening to the voices of the original cast, you won’t be disappointed by this casts’ performance!
What is impressive with Christine Daaé’s actress is that the role requires training in classical ballet. I’m impressed with the actress’ natural ballet dancing skills, but definitely not a Lisa Macuja-Elizalde. It didn’t require complicated arabesques and lifts, but the basics were executed nicely.
I just simply love the fact that you can somehow (of course, not entirely) appreciate both musicals and opera in one show. According to Mr. Ong, people have looked down on his decision to take part in this popular West End musical because they think that it belittles his talent as a classically trained Tenor. I would agree, however, with Mr. Ong’s opinion that this is the best way to reach to more people. With this show, people come to watch because they want to watch it, and not because they are required to watch an opera. It’s the best way to reach out to the teens and influence their taste for higher culture. I just couldn’t agree more.
The Phantom of the Opera doesn’t come to Manila often having an international cast chosen by an accredited production staff. Every Filipino who can afford should afford to watch this. Hopefully, after we have exhausted all the popular and top-grossing musicals to show here, we can start importing the not-so-popular ones, but are worth watching as well, and still people go and watch.
International tours being welcomed in the country, Theater courses should begin flourishing in our country. Younger people become more interested in theater, and taking it up as a legit course in college, taking minor in singing, ballet, jazz dancing; thus, taking theater acting a notch higher. No matter how noble it is to act out plays with social dimension and that speak about politics, they still do not appeal to the pop culture generation. We have to use more popular media to reach to them, to educate them ultimately to appreciate a different kind of culture that is more lasting, and which does not change even after 25 years, just like this classic musical, The Phantom of the Opera.
Take advantage. Watch.
Upcoming shows in Asia:
May-June 2013: Bangkok, Thailand