Top Five Reasons to Go See The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera is a Broadway staple.  It’s one of the productions that tourists come to New York City to see.  Last year it celebrated its 25th anniversary on Broadway making it the longest running show in the history of The Great White Way.  With grosses over $800 million, it’s the most financially successful theater production to date.  In May The Phantom of the Opera made history once again by adding the first Phantom of color, actor Norm Lewis.

The Phantom of the Opera began its epic run on Broadway in 1988 and after 26 years it still packs in the crowds.  One might think that after all this time this musical juggernaut might have lost its steam – what with all the new productions dealing with more modern issues – but there is a reason why classics never die.  If you haven’t seen The Phantom of the Opera, I’m here to tell you that you should and I have five good reasons to back me up.

4.2018005. Unrequited Love

The Phantom of the Opera intertwines this theme into the beauty and the beast subplot.  The Phantom in all his grotesque glory loves Christine Daaé, a beautiful young soprano.  So much so that he will kill to ensure her success at the French opera house.  She is his muse and musically they do share a connection, but his disfigured face and criminal behavior prevents her from conceiving of the possibility of returning his love.  Another complication for The Phantom is the reemergence of Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, Christine’s childhood playmate and first love.  Everyone has their favorite fables about unrequited love.  Wuthering HeightsGone With the WindThe Phantom of the Opera definitely ranks up there with the greatest love stories told on stage or screen.

5.2018144. Norm Lewis

There is a new Phantom in town and his name is Norm Lewis.  Stepping into a role as iconic as the Phantom can be quite the undertaking, 25 years and several other Phantoms before you, and every die-hard Phantom fan has their favorite.  But Lewis holds true to magic and sinister nature of the Phantoms before him.  In fact, he adds another dimension to the story of a brilliant man forced to hide in the shadows of an opera house because of the way he looks and is driven mad by the isolation and rejection.

4.2018013.  Sierra Boggess

Sierra Boggess has been playing the role of Christine Daaé in various productions since 2006.  She first played the role in a production of The Phantom of the Opera in Las Vegas.  She played Christine in the sequel to Phantom, Love Never Dies.  On Broadway, she reprised the role in 2013 for a six-week engagement. In March, it was announced that she would return along with Norm Lewis.  As soon as Boggess utters the first note you can tell how familiar she is with the role.  Her voice fills the Majestic Theatre with a power and tenderness that can be felt from the orchestra to the mezzanine.  If you are not a fan of opera, Boggess will make you one or at the very least you will have a greater appreciation for the craft.

3.2017992.  Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart

The music of The Phantom of the Opera was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics written by Charles Hart and additions from Richard Stilgoe, who also wrote the book with Webber.  The music and lyrics are one of the reasons why The Phantom of the Opera is the most successful theater productions on Broadway and around the world.  Just hearing the entrancing number “The Music of the Night” is enough to fill seats or the beautiful exchange between Raoul and Christine in “All I Ask of You”; the music and lyrics captivates the audience from beginning to end and gloriously illuminates the genius of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

3.2018101.  It’s an authentic theater experience

From the lavish sets and costumes, the music and lyrics, to the performers, The Phantom of the Opera harkens back to a time when going to the theater was a complete transformation into another world and the audience felt lucky to be a part of it because it was happening live in front of them.  The pageantry and opulence of The Phantom of the Opera holds a mirror to the mediocre productions that somehow get backing and land on Broadway and says, “Tisk…tisk…tisk.  This is how you create theater.”  Simply put, they just don’t make ‘em like this anymore and no matter your age or generation quality is quality.  And the fuel that runs The Phantom of the Opera is excellence.

Photos by Matthew Murphy

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The Bridges of Madison County Crosses Over With Glorious Soundtrack

The root of the word musical is music.  Everybody knows that.  But the word that stands in the shadows of the root word is good.  Songs crammed into a book does not a musical make.  Fortunately, “The Bridges of Madison County” doesn’t suffer from that problem.

10.196053“The Bridges of Madison County” originated as a novel written by Robert James Waller and published in 1992.  It stayed on the “New York Times” best-seller list for three years.  In 1995, it was adapted to a movie starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep as Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson, the main characters.  The film was equally as commercially successful as the novel garnering an Academy Award Best Actress nomination for Streep.

The plot of “The Bridges of Madison County” centers on two lonely people that find comfort and true love in one another during a four-day long affair that each carries with them for the rest of their lives.  Robert Kincaid is an aloof photojournalist working for “National Geographic.”  Francesca Johnson is an Italian war bride that was looking for an escape when she married her husband Richard and settled with him in a farming town in Iowa.  Richard takes their teenage children, Michael and Carolyn, to a state fair leaving Francesca alone when Robert pulls up in her driveway.  He was sent on assignment to photograph the covered bridges in the area and was lost.  He asks Francesca for directions to the Roseman Covered Bridge. She shows him how to get there and the two hit it off.  The chemistry between them is palpable and after a conversation and dinner the pair begins an affair.  Realizing each other is the love they had been waiting for; they contemplate sharing their lives together.   Francesca decides that she can’t abandon her family, so the two separate and never see each other again.

9.196055 “The Bridges of Madison County” the film is the quintessential chick flick for an evening in with your spouse or a girl’s get together.  The musical adaptation of this story is no exception.  In fact, the music and lyrics of composer Jason Robert Brown only amplifies its beauty.  The longing and vulnerability that Francesca masks is fully exposed in Kelli O’Hara’s performance.  She was joy to watch in “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” the pleasure of seeing her on stage increased triple-fold after seeing her in this production.  Her voice is lovely and the score makes good use of her range.  After seeing Steven Pasquale walk on stage from the audience, I could see why Francesca’s locked desires were released.  He makes for a much sexier Robert Kincaid than Clint Eastwood.  There is no one in the audience that couldn’t understand why Francesca was close to jetting off into the sunset with him.  The synergy O’Hara and Pasquale created onstage was complimented by the score as the two created wonderful harmony together. In this adaptation the music is the third member of this love triangle and the scrumptious singing of O’Hara and Pasquale makes the audience want to root for their romance. Hunter Foster has a sturdiness to him that makes him perfect for the no-nonsense, all-American fellow.  Once again he excels in his portrayal of Bud (Richard).  For me the breakout performance is delivered by Cass Morgan who plays Marge, the nosey neighbor with a heart of gold.  Her solo of “Get Closer” was the hit of the night.

10.196051It’s delightful to see a new musical with a score like this keeping the future of the American musical alive with vibrant energy.  However there are a few components of “The Bridges of Madison County” that fell short.  One was the lack of choreography.  When it comes to musicals I believe music and choreography are what make a musical number and assist in driving the book forward.  There is only one number in this production that has choreography, and while the music is stimulating, the lack of movement makes the entire show somewhat incomplete.  Also, throughout the musical the extras are present on stage, sitting in chairs quietly observing.  But from time to time they are moving about, assisting with moving the set around.  At first I was unsure they were just there to move the set or if their presence had a more artistic meaning.  The optimist in me hopes for the latter, for if not the extras would be an awkward solution to the issue of changing the set and its props.  But these are just minor glitches that can be overlooked when one hears the incredible score and the great chemistry of O’Hara and Pasquale.  All and all “The Bridges of Madison County” is a bridge worth coming to.

Photos:  Joan Marcus

Casualty of War…Hands on a Hardbody Couldn’t Hold On

Springtime on Broadway is a fast and furious time for openings of new shows.  Competition is fierce and there’re bound to be casualties.  This year, the first to fall was Hands on a Hardbody, a musical based on a documentary of the same name.  In fact, the April 13 closing gave Hands on a Hardbody a new, unfortunate title, “Fastest-closing musical of this season.”  This homegrown musical with is rock and roll score did get fair reviews, but the kind words from critics weren’t enough to fill the seats.  I also thought the musical had potential, yet after only 56 performances the lights of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre will be dark until another production takes the stage.  So what went wrong for Hands on a Hardbody?  Here are a few “non-conspiracy” theories F.A.M.E NYC has come up with…

  1.  The Tony’s Race – The 2012-2013 season ends on April 25.  Spring and fall are always major seasons for Broadway, but the reason why there is an overabundance of shows opening in March and April is to secure the opportunity for consideration for this year’s Tony Awards.  With so many shows opening, the little musical that could didn’t have enough selling power to get past Broadway’s spring frenzy to make it to the summer months when Broadway has an extremely light opening schedule. 
  2. Musical Smackdown – This season Broadway had several musicals going head to head for supremacy.  Musicals like Matilda, Motown the Musical, Jekyll & Hyde, Kinky Boots and Cinderella all have audiences they cater to.  Cinderella is a family-friendly show that will draw from the same audiences that have enjoyed Wicked, The Lion King or Mary Poppins.  Who doesn’t love the music of Motown?  The musical simply just has to use the massive power of its overwhelming catalog to fill seats.  Similar to Hands on a Hardbody, Kinky Boots is based on a true story that audiences may be unfamiliar with but the score from Kinky Boots is all the rage.  Jekyll & Hyde and Pippin already have a loyal fan base, and these revivals will rely on heavily on its fans to compete.   Broadway already has its breakout musical for this season with Matilda, with such heavy competition; Hands on a Hardbody would’ve needed a miracle to survive.
  3. Star Power – Tom Hanks, Bette Midler, Deborah Cox, Constantine Maroulis, Cyndi Lauper, Nathan Lane, Ben Foster, Alec Baldwin, Alan Cumming…need I list more?  Broadway is definitely seeing stars this season.  With the exception of Keith Carradine, Hands on a Hardbody was devoid of recognizable actors. Although I rather enjoyed the ensemble cast, Broadway is a business and stars equal ticket sales.

As Hands on a Hardbody shuffles to the Broadway graveyard, I would also like to make mention of its timing.  What this show suffered from most was the time in which it opened.  Instead of trying to battle for a nomination slot in this year’s Tony Awards, it should’ve waited and opened in the summer.  But you know what they say…should’ve, could’ve would’ve.

Although it’s a moot point, to see what F.A.M.E NYC thought of the show, click https://famenycmagazine.com/2013/03/25/hands-on-a-hardbody-places-its-palms-on-broadway/.

Photo:  Broadway.com

Under the Sea

There is something about a puppet show that seems to resonate with the child in all of us.  Regardless if you are seven or 70, live in a penthouse or a one bedroom walk up or are mother and father of 10 or singles looking to relive your childhood for just a brief moment, a puppet show equalizes all playing fields with smiles and laughter.  And pure joy is what awaits anyone that spends 50 minutes in the undersea world that John Tartaglia creates.

John Tartaglia’s Imaginocean! is a delightful sub-aquatic excursion that brings the three dimensional world of the deep to life with a musical that is treat for children and adults.  The main characters in this romp of currents and discovery are a fish named Dorsel, his sister Bubbles and their friend Tank.  Through their quest for treasure these friends find more than money, they meet new friends and learn lifelong lessons.

The freshness of John Tartaglia’s Imaginocean! comes in the form of black-light, which makes the color puppets pop and become animated.  The audience feels as if they are below the depths of the sea with the fishy friends and experience every laugh, song and dance in a much livelier way than other puppet productions.  Filled with good music and good times, John Tartaglia’s Imaginocean!  is one of off-Broadway’s best productions for a family.  This show is smart, innovative and cool, I have no doubt it will continue to swim in a wave of success.