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'Phantom' Menace? Don't Believe Your Eyes

Sunday, June 24, 2007

As aging-mass-murderer-seduces- teenage-ingenue tales go, "The Phantom of the Opera" is tough to beat. The saga of Erik and Christine has been the basis of a best-selling book, several movies and, in its Andrew Lloyd Webber stage incarnation, has grossed more than $3 billion in worldwide ticket sales and become the longest-running musical in Broadway history. (It's now ensconced at the Kennedy Center Opera House through Aug. 12.)

If the story seems mythical, perhaps that is because the original French novel (Gaston Leroux, 1911) is a version of a French fairy tale ("Beauty and the Beast"). Archetypes tell us something about ourselves, and "Phantom" floats on its dark romantic gloss, an ache of unrequited love. The genius of the production is its intricate marriage of plot, score and stagecraft. Think of it as a well-engineered watch.

And here, a bit of the show's gears are revealed -- the most famous falling chandelier in theater history. An auction item at the beginning of the play, it is Lot No. 666. Archetypes, indeed.

In the play, a furious Phantom sends the chandelier crashing to the stage. In reality, a stage manager watches two monitors -- one showing the stage, the other showing the orchestra conductor -- and times the mechanized descent to both the music and action.

-- Neely Tucker

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