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Music of the Night

Last night, Louie and I watched The Phantom of the Opera at the Theatre at Solaire. It was our way of capping off his birthday month, which was primarily spent on going to museums, eating, drinking, and me perpetually singing off-key in the passenger seat (what's new?!) This time, I have all the more reason to keep singing (much to his... dismay? delight? defeat?) because we finally got to watch one of my favorite musicals together.

Fun fact: I've seen Phantom on stage three times now. First, in 2009, at The Venetian in Las Vegas. with my family. It was such a spectacle because the theater itself was created for Phantom, which meant it felt like the spectators were actually inside the Paris Opera Garnier. The highlight of that show was the chandelier, which was gigantic and loomed above the audience like a haunting menace, as if an actual character itself to the show. Then, in 2012, we watched the Phantom tour in Manila, at the CCP. I remember being impressed by the touring singers and finding them much better suited to the Phantom and Christine of my expectations than the actors from the Las Vegas show. We had better seats in Vegas though (right under the chandelier!), which I think made the Manila experience less exciting for me.

So why watch again? My affinity for this musical is mostly due to my parents' influence. "All I Ask of You" was my mom and dad's wedding song. I grew up listening to the Broadway cast recording because my parents would play it occasionally on weekends. So even though I was only really allowed to find out about the plot when I saw the 2004 movie starring Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler as a teenager (my parents felt that the content was too mature for me), I can remember being familiar to the opening chords to "The Phantom of the Opera" back from childhood. I knew the songs even before I had an idea about the story.

But I think it's also because it's a spectacle where I can just sit back and enjoy everything as it unfolds. I feel like, for the most part, as a former student of literature, I'm wired to consume art with a lot of empathy, a lot of "looking at things from a certain perspective" to make it more three-dimensional. As we've been taught to do, my literary-criticism glasses automatically activate once I watch, listen, or read anything.

Sometimes though, it's just fun to watch things you don't have to analyze and can't relate to. I'm nowhere near a qualified singer, I have no mysterious "Angel of Music" obsessing over my voice and kidnapping me to make me his bride, no devoted Raoul promising his love while a phantom eavesdrops behind the gargoyles. It's such a ridiculously menacing but enthralling Gothic ride. I can relate to none of it - and that's what makes it so enjoyable. I can sit back and not feel any emotions for the characters, and it's fine.

Which isn't to say none of them are written convincingly. They are. But I just do not see myself relating to any of the groteseque or horror characters, and I'm perfectly happy with that. As it is, I can enjoy the music and the set design and the story, without having to worry about emotional or sociological repercussions about what the whole plot tries to achieve. True, the Phantom as a character can be considered problematic - but he's based on a GOTHIC CHARACTER. Every character in that era is almost always problematic or idiotic (haha). Moreover, it's a musical written in the 1980s. It's meant to be menacing but in histrionics. Andrew Lloyd Webber (and Gaston Leroux) cannot possibly be faulted here.

Say what you can about the score, but I absolutely love the entire soundtrack. Always have, always will. The electric guitar riffs peppered all throughout the theme song just takes the cake for me. I have no doubt that if a mysterious Phantom fetches me in my dreams and lets me sing all the layers of that song (melody, rhythm, etc), he'll crash a chandelier over my head in an instant. But he will not be able to fault me for not trying, because I know that song word for word, note for note! And I will never get tired of it. Same with "All I Ask of You" and "Think of Me" which I will gladly sing to anyone even if they don't ask for it (or specifically ask me not to, lol). The entire soundtrack is just such a joy to sing, even though they are extremely difficult. I think the actors from last night's production were great and a lot better than I was expecting. Though I did find Raoul a bit too antagonistic for my taste, and Phantom far more compelling than menacing. But I chalk that up to the director's interpretation and not the actors' failure.  I also love that the theater was small enough to make the staging intimate yet creepy at just the right instances. Although we were seated in the right side of the orchestra section, we didn't feel like we missed out on a lot considering our view.

And the chandelier! For me, nothing can compare to the Las Vegas production's three (or was it four??)-tier chandelier, but this one was much better staged than the first Manila run, because it kind of loomed over the audiences as well. Goosebumps-inducing once the score begins after the first scene at the auction. The way it rose from the stage pa lang, solb na ako eh!

Coming from a huge fan, it's really something worth going out of your way and seeing. It's dark and seductive and thrilling. I highly recommend it, because it's a great first foray into Broadway for the uninitiated and a classic one worth revisiting for musical fans. I hear it's been extended until April, so there's still a chance.

Only downside to this is that now Louie will be forced to hear me belting out a la Christine even though ABSOLUTELY NO ONE is saying "Sing for meeeee!" Fortunately, my voice can shatter a thousand chandeliers as well, so if anything, at least I'm just taking inspiration from the material. He can't really complain.