Theater people have opinions on "The Phantom of the Opera."
They are not shy about sharing them.
Few musicals in the history of the form have produced such polarized reactions from musical-lovers, whose takes on the 1986 Andrew Lloyd Webber classic tend to fall into one of two camps: "BEST SHOW EVER" or "CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY."
As "Phantom" makes its way to Buffalo for a two-week run in Shea's Performing Arts Center from April 25 to May 6 (followed by Lloyd Webber's sequel "Love Never Dies," June 5 to 10), we asked members of Buffalo's theater community to chime in on the show's merits and cultural impact.
The opinions, as expected, were wildly divergent, deeply amusing and sometimes bipolar. (Some tortured people, myself included, cannot abide the show's plot or technical gimmicks, but enjoy its melodies.) Below is a sampling of the responses, pulled from one of the more amusing Facebook discussions I've ever accidentally started.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Expletives, of which there were many, have been edited out:
Stefan Brundage, former Buffalo actor now living in Chicago: It's misogynistic for all the reasons, with so many plot holes, and way too long. Nearly every last song and moment could be cut in half. It's redundant, two-dimensional with characters and plot and overrated as all get-out. The fact that it’s the longest-running show on Broadway ("Cats" being second) is a testament to how unartistic, basic and tourist trappy Broadway is. But that said, I know every song and love them all on their own.
Nick Lama, Buffalo actor: It was what sparked my love for theater and made me want to act. It was the first show I ever saw. My family took me to see it in Toronto when I was in first grade. I’ll never forget how scared/excited I got when the chandelier rose at the top of the show. In the lobby after the show, I begged my parents to buy me the CD to it and they did. I sang along to it the entire drive back.
Michael Wachowiak, Buffalo actor: I've never understood how it's become so huge, and ultimately the longest-running show on Broadway. They melodies are pretty, but Andrew Lloyd Webber only wrote three of them and stretched them out into a full score. ... That being said, I find "Love Never Dies" awful in a far more amusing way. I can't wait to see that this summer.
Heather Rae Ackerman, Buffalo playwright: I love it. It was one of the first (maybe the very first) experience I ever had in a theater without popcorn on the floor: The Pantages in Toronto. I still remember the feel of the red velvet seats. I realized how immersive live performance can be. Creating the illusion of a subterranean lake onstage blew my fourth-grade mind. It's pure melodrama, so yeah, some people hate it. Do you also hate all the fun things of medium quality? Like Shamrock Shakes, or Bruno Mars?
Also "Music of the Night" is pure sex.
Peter Palmisano, Buffalo actor: I can't hate "Phantom" or "Cats," for that matter, because these are the shows that I took my young daughter to oh so many years ago. Trips to the Pantages in Toronto resulted in solid bonding opportunities. Then we would sing the songs (played on a cassette) in the car at the top of our lungs all the way home. I don't feel qualified to judge either of them on their "musical theater" qualities. Others have far more credentials than I. For me, these are just great memories.
Matthew Crehan Higgins, Buffalo playwright and actor: Over the years I've come to like it itself less and less, but I respect its place in history as the touchpoint that first got me, many folks my age, and some much younger first interested in musical theater. And I do miss the "Buy Phantom By Phone" commercials. I was at the theater where it played for many years in Toronto for the first time in a very long time this fall (then the Pantages, now the Ed Mirvish) and was surprised by the way being in the lobby brought up strong excited sense memories of arriving there with my parents for the first time in sixth-grade and then again on a seventh-grade field trip.
Catherine Young, Buffalo native and theater instructor at New York University: I’ve been thinking about this for the past two years since my tween goddaughter and I watched it on Netflix (not the movie but the London anniversary stage show). If a man kidnaps a woman for a forced marriage, there’s an implication of rape in that, right? She’s scared mainly because she has a partner and doesn’t want to be forced to have a partner she doesn’t choose. Because of this, I find its prominence really awful.
Victoria Pérez-Maggiolo, Buffalo actor and artistic director of Raíces Theatre: It was the first and only show that I fell asleep while watching. And I saw it on Broadway. It just wasn’t relevant to me.
Loraine O'Donnell, Buffalo actor and managing director of the Kavinoky Theatre: I avoided seeing it for years because for a few years, every time a friend got married I was hit up to sing "That's All I Ask of You." I couldn't bear hearing the music. My late ex-husband knew of my disdain for the show and when it was playing in Toronto bought me tickets for my birthday. I thought he was (joking) when he said, "Look at the ticket and see who is playing the Phantom..." It was Paul Stanley from Kiss!
I went with different expectations and I had a blast. There were old-school "Phantom" lovers and a whole new audience wearing KISS T-shirts. Paul Stanley couldn't act his way out of a paper bag but he sang it like a rock opera. And he killed it. Everyone else in the cast had amazing legit voices and he was his own show. So that memory related to the show for me is special. The music? Not so much.
Scott Behrend, Buffalo director and artistic director of Road Less Traveled Productions: I've loved "Phantom" since I was 12 and saw it with Colm Wilkinson in Toronto. It changed my whole view on live theater and I think propelled my trajectory to become a theater artist. Hal Prince's direction combined with a terrific design aesthetic, especially for the 80's, was magical. The music is some of Andrew Lloyd Webber's best.
Doug Weyand, Buffalo actor: I saw the original Toronto cast in '89 (Colm Wilkinson and Rebecca Caine). "Phantom" was a cultural juggernaut at the time. The cast recording was at/near the top of the charts. There were music videos playing on MTV. And I had never seen anything that "big" before.
I think, it was many virginal theatregoers' first experience, and it lived up to their expectations. So, they brought their kids when they got older. It's not a bad show by any stretch. It's just been overexposed. You saw the same thing happen to "A Chorus Line" and "Rent," and I believe, it's happening with "Wicked." I don't dislike any of them, but I don't care if I see any of them again.
Norm Sham, Buffalo actor: I saw Michael Crawford in the original cast and Colm Wilkenson a year later in Toronto. "Phantom was huge!" I loved it then because, as Doug said, it was a cultural juggernaut. It also just so happened to have, and still does, a lot of great music/moments. I'll never forget sitting in the Majestic Theatre in anticipation before the show. Michael Crawford did so many things he didn't do on the London Cast album, which I wore out. It was off the charts cool to experience live.
"The Phantom of the Opera"
Where: Shea's Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.
When: April 25 to May 6
Tickets: $32-$127. Call 847-0850 or visit sheas.org.