Written and photographed
By Jude Bautista
Upon entering the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo, CCP main theater, the first thing that strikes you is the very ornate, shimmering and gold like, frieze sculptures of cherubs. They immediately transport you to the real Paris Opera, which is the setting of “The Phantom of the Opera”. You can understand and appreciate the great expense used to bring one of the most classic and popular musicals ever produced. SMART Infinity, Citibank and of course Phil Airlines were very necessary sponsors to pull off the spectacular show here in Manila.
‘Spectacular’ in this sense is no exaggeration. In the early scene with the rehearsal of the opera “Hannibal” a huge elephant is center stage where Piangi (Thabiso Masemene) clambers on. The ensemble carries him atop the huge beast and then bow to him for his impending battle with Rome. “The Phantom..” is unique in its ability to show the inner workings of stage and having many plays / operas within a play.
Possibly one of the most accomplished composers of our time and larger than life figure of the stage, Andrew Lloyd Webber also believed the Paris Opera was an important element in the novel: “Spectacle was all. Hugo in his preface to Cromwell (1827) wrote ‘the stage should make as complete as possible the illusion of reality.”
According to him, the history and design may have also inspired novelist Gaston Leroux to pen “The Phantom of the Opera” on which the musical is based: “The Paris Opera House survive in much the same form described in the novel. It occupies a three-acre site and some idea of the labyrinthine nature of the building can be appreciated if one considers the auditorium as less than one fifth of the total space. There are seventeen storeys, seven of which are below the stage level. The stables for the opera horses still exist. There is a monument to La Carlotta. More important, there really is a lake underneath the building. It is an integral part of the design and the water level acts as ballast, raised or lowered depending on the weight on the stage, seven storeys above it.”
The production and set design has already been engineered from years past by Maria Björnson but the ingenuity is still mesmerizing. Evidence are: Tony Awards, Outer Critic’s Circle Awards, and Drama Critic’s Awards all for Best Set and Costume. For example, how did they think of creating the illusion of water when the Phantom (Jonathan Roxmouth) first brings Christine (Claire Lyon) to his underground lair? Audiences are easily convinced that he takes her to a boat and floats into the cavernous palace lit with hundreds of candles. We all know they are on stage but the illusion of a canal is very convincing.
Cameron Mackintosh’s Filipino Connection
Apart from the insights of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the official program also has the intimate thoughts of producer Cameron Mackintosh. He is perhaps the most successful stage producer of the last half century with the longest running shows to his credit: Cats, Les Miserable and of course Phantom of the Opera.
Mackintosh however, is etched in Filipinos’ consciousness for Miss Saigon. It brought Filipino talent into the world stage in the late 80’s. Lea Salonga and Monique Wilson are in the lead role but dozens of names were also discovered and given international acclaim: Leo Valdez, Michael Williams, Robert Seña, Junix Inocian, Isay Alvarez, Ma Anne Dionisio, Gina Respall, Ian Venida and Miguel Diaz among others.
Today Monique Wilson is in the lead role of Anna Leonowens in the “King And I” playing in Resort’s World Manila. Gina Respall is in the role of Lady Thiang and of course Leo Valdez is the King. Leo had established himself as one of the best names of Philippine theater way before playing the role of Engineer in Miss Saigon. For Phantom another Filipino talent is discovered in Dondi Ong who will be part of the Asian tour. Ong is an Aliw awardee as Best Classical Male Performer in 2009 and 2011.
Mackintosh was able to relate how during the writing of Phantom Webber had a helicopter accident “fell off the sky.” He continued, “Luckily it wasn’t serious but it gave Andrew an insight to the feelings of the chandelier.” The huge and elaborate chandelier also became one of the key elements in the musical.
The Heart of the Tale
Love in the usual sense is being able to possess the person who is the object of your desire. But what has captured audiences from around the world is the journey that each character goes through. They all transform and realize that love is more of being able to make the necessary sacrifice for the person most dear to you.
Dialogue can only do so much, when it’s set to music and truly moving lyrics, that’s when emotions are conveyed most effectively and directly. In the beginning the Phantom is a horrific, omnipresent character. Part of his power is his creative genius in music, how he is able to discover and develop Christine’s vocal talents.
Jonathan Roxmouth as the Phantom has both the vocal prowess and magnetic charisma. Underneath the mask are features akin to the late and possibly the most famous Superman, Christopher Reeve. Roxmouth’s performance is commanding enough to deliver lines like “You will curse the day you did not do all that the Phantom asked of you!” He is also still able to be romantic enough to seduce the most jaded of hearts.Thank you to my cousin Christopher Lizo, Chief Financial Officer of Manila North Toll ways Corporation for giving me, my parents and my nephew tickets to The Phantom, certainly the must see theatrical event of the year!
Other sponsors for Phantom of the Opera include: Shell, PLDT TELPAD, Diamond Hotel, CCP, OOCL, Monark CAT, 105.9 Radio High, Crossover 105.1, ETC channel, 2nd Avenue, JACK tv, Phil Star, Business World, Phil Daily Inquirer, Manila Bulletin, Ayala Malls, Rustan’s, Jaguar and TICKETWORLD.