“Splashy entertainment… intriguing… a propulsive, exciting way for modern audiences to connect with one of the greatest horror films of all time.” – Creepy LA
Splashy Entertainment in Silent-land: Vox Lumiere’s Production of “The Phantom of the Opera”
Kevin Saunders Hayes’ production of “The Phantom of the Opera” is called “an explosive mash-up of music, dance, technology and silent film” for a reason—it really is a propulsive, exciting way for modern audiences to connect with one of the greatest horror films of all time some 89 years after its premiere. Coupled with the irony that Universal Studios’ Stage 28, upon which the Lon Chaney PHANTOM OF THE OPERA was shot, has just been demolished, the Vox Lumiere show is fraught with meaning and heavy with symbolism. But is it the right symbolism? Much depends on how you choose to interpret both the show and the film it’s based on.
Staged as a sort of operetta commenting on the silent film (which is shown in the background), the Vox Lumiere version of PHANTOM is a rock-fueled counterpoint to a film that was already filled with irony and comedy. It’s very clear that Mary Philbin’s Christine (in the 1925 film) is an ambiguous heroine, not entirely at odds with her murderous mentor the Phantom (Lon Chaney), while the live-action Christine (Marisa Johnson on stage, Victoria Levy off stage) is definitely repulsed by her evil swain. (And, more importantly, what he stands for: Success at any cost.) At the same time, while Chaney’s Phantom is a romantic madman who wants success at any cost, James Lynch’s live-action Phantom has the feelings of a modern man that demands loyalty to himself before the music. The Grand Dame (live-action Danielle Skalsky) and Mademoiselle Carlotta (Julie Brody, in the live performance) are played for laughs in the film, but in the stage show there is a sense that they’ve truly been wronged and that without knowledge of the Phantom, they have every reason for their fury at the Opera’s managers.
The question the show offers the viewer is, what do they think THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is really about? Does the Phantom even exist, or is he a figment of Raoul’s jealous mind or even of Christine’s ambitious psyche? Of course, Vox Lumiere offers up a feast for the eyes and ears during the entire program, from their amusing French-/English-language opening narration (just slightly Disneyesque) to the company’s excellent dance numbers, choreographed by Natalie Willes.
Those who come to the theater expecting Lloyd Weber’s turgid soap opera (with cheeseball drum machine) are sure to be disappointed, and anyone that thinks it will simply be a screening of the classic silent film will be bothered by all the distractions. But if you recognize the possibilities inherent in opening up a silent movie into new dimensions, or even old dimensions (multimedia spectaculars weren’t invented yesterday, after all), then this show might be for you. Vox Lumiere’s intriguing production of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA runs through December 13 in Downtown Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Theater Center.