An all-time favourite since childhood, it’d been the better part of twenty years since I’d last seen the mainstage production of The Phantom of the Opera until just last week when I took in the latest travelling show at the Jubilee Auditorium, Edmonton’s premiere theatre house. Not that I’d forgotten the tender, impassioned rock opera cum musical these past two decades. How could I ? As a boy I’d listened to the cassette tapes until they wore out and entangled the machinery of my rose red walkman. For years and years after seeing the show for the first time, I rehearsed and memorised the words and melodies, my pre-pubescent vocal range daring to soar to Christine’s heart-piercing heights just as much as the baritone lows of Phantom’s sombre soliloquies. My love of musical theatre is owed entirely to this : Andrew Lloyd Webber’s crowning achievement.i
One song that hadn’t held as much power in my youth was Masquerade, which opened the second act and made all the more impact for its relative obscurity in my memory. The magnificence of the Belle Epoque was on full display as established ladies and gents donned their darkest attire and most effervescent masks for an evening of dancing and shielded but socially acceptable open romance. The need for at least occasional anonymity was all too real, then as now. Today, it’s cheaper to create a forum pseudonym and hope for the best. The trick is that affording solutions that actually do something isn’t so simple, nor so cheap. Nevermind $500 masquerade masks, their twenty-first century equivalents are a whole lot more besides. Today, given the societal expectations around marital fidelity for allii and the scant few places where one can cut loose,iii even an established gentleman requires an airplane ticket, a hotel room, and the company of a $300/hr escort if he’s to expand his horizons and satisfy his urges without risking his social standing at home.iv That’s a coupla grand right there, easy. All while “oppressive” Ancient Rome had more free men and fewer slaves than we have anywhere in the soi-disant “civilised world” today. Yet we “live like kings” ? Ha. We’re but peons and no amount of wealth can free us for as long as we live here.v
Anyhow, back at the show, and more specifically back at the set, another irreducible expense was the chandelier that dropped from the ceiling onto our tenth-row heads, daring us to flinch and stopping only in the last five metres. Dangling precariously thereafter, the four metric tons of crystal and brass evermore threatened to turn audience-goers into glimmeringly bespeckled pancakes. As to the set pieces on stage, having spent three years in London and now touring the Americas, it was remarkably… vertical. The second-story perches of the rotating central piece towered near the rafters. Occassionally prodruding from the central wall was an electrically-manipulated staircase that descended into the Phantom’s catacombs and, according to one roadie, was operated via bluetooth to allow each step to articulate individually in extending and retracting from the wall. While this obviously opened the door to hilarious hacks whereby steps are inconveniently misplaced and actors sent plunging to their doom, this was yet another example of if you can, you must and its omnipresent verity even in such nostalgic domains as the theatre. Or should I say, the Opera ?
Because there’s no hiding the monster beneath the mask.
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- Though Joseph is certainly an outstanding work, it plays second fiddle in my books if only for its relative cleanliness. Joseph lacks a love story, murder, or a deranged but brilliant mutant, all of which Phantom has. And what’s life or art without drama ? [↩]
- What happened to “some of us are more equal than others” ?!! If only that were the case in practise. So unfair. [↩]
- Having last call at 2am certainly doesn’t help. If you only get to the club at 10pm, by 2am you’re just getting warmed up! While the colonies are just so perverse, at least the Old World is holding on to this last shred of civilisation. I can’t be bothered to read whatever the charlatans at the United Nations consider “human rights,” but if it doesn’t include public places to party until the sun rises, it’s utter garbage. [↩]
- But even then it’s best to stay away from men with cameras and microphones lest you become immortalised like Mr. Rippin’ and Tearin’, and to stay away from clingy psychos while trying to cultivate a wholesome PR image lest you become immortalised like Tiger Woods. [↩]
- This is, of course, the attraction of #trilema : the independent in society can be free in speech and free of puritanical norms in a shared public forum. The downside of this outlet is that it’s a window into a world so starkly contrasting the day-to-day norm that it can be a serious struggle to maintain the two immiscibles in the same noggin. The attrition rate and modest number of new entrants who stick around for more than a week speak volumes to this tragic truth. [↩]