In a “Phantom” state of mind – part 2 (Jonathan Roxmouth appreciation post)

So I saved the best for last.

And because I know this is going to be looooong.  -___- 

The Phantom.

Everyone has their own preconception of what the Phantom should sound like or be like. Michael Crawford will always have a special place in everyone’s heart (including mine), because he was the first stage Phantom (and also the first Phantom I heard…on the CD, that is). For many people he set the template for all future Phantoms. He incorporated subtle inputs and mannerisms, still used by many stage Phantoms today, and he presented the character as he actually is – a really creepy middle-aged man obsessed with a teenager. I know that the Phantom is supposed to be a tenor, having said that, I’m not going to be apologetic when I say that my personal preference have always leant more towards powerful, rough, edgy, full yet raspy-voiced  baritones (or baritenors) who can hit those soaring high notes. (I guess that’s why I actually liked Gerik from the movie adaptation despite the portrayal being lambasted by critics and loyal phans).  But, alas, these gems are few and far between.

For the longest time after the announcement near the end of 2011 that POTO will be coming to Manila in August 2012 there was no news about who will be playing the Phantom. Speculations grew. Lea Salonga dropped a hint that it’ll be Brad Little, but it was learned later on that he’s still committed to Evita in Broadway by then. And so the guessing game continued. The news only broke, I think,  just shortly before the cast arrived. With the exception of Christine, almost the entire cast and production team is carried over from the recently concluded South African run. A name at last: Manila’s Phantom – our Phantom –  is Jonathan Roxmouth! The main protagonists in the Manila cast are very young – Claire Lyon, Anthony Downing, and Roxmouth himself, are just in their mid-twenties! *gasp!* (I will learn later on that Jonathan Roxmouth is, in fact, the youngest English language Phantom ever – a mere 24 when he was cast in 2011! Very impressive! What was I doing when I was 24? *sigh*) The Philippine press unashamedly played up this proximity in age, knowing how the Filipinos love an onstage-to-offstage love triangle, which understandably drew some misgivings from faithful phans because Erik is supposed to be middle-aged dammit so why play that aspect up stupid press?!

At the Phantom Gala Party: (from left) Jonathan Roxmouth, Claire Lyon, Anthony Downing (a.k.a. The Phantom, Christine, and Raoul)

As excited as I was about the show, I was almost hyperventilating by the time the story moved toward The Mirror scene, at the edge of my seat, gnashing my teeth in anticipation. It would’ve been perfectly acceptable  to me had Roxmouth been yet another one of those usual high (sometimes shrill) tenors and I’d honestly resigned myself to expect that. I was feeling the magic of watching it live for the first time anyway and anything would’ve been fine. But when that scornful ‘Insolent boy!’  rang out and I heard my first earful of Roxmouth’s Phantom, I almost jumped out of my skin. In the words of the Phantom, he was “…in a word, ideal.”

Jonathan Roxmouth’s voice is the perfect illustration of why Christine is involuntarily entranced every time she is with the Phantom! It is such a richly textured voice that is both powerful yet gentle, resonating and reverberating around the theater, yet sometimes with a cadence to it that is so gentle it seems to tiptoe across the notes. He tackled the role of the Phantom with such gravitas that any previous concerns about his youth seemed ridiculous and utterly irrelevant after watching his performance. To say that he “sings” is an underestimation of what he does: he whispers, he growls, he rasps, putting a whole gamut of emotion into his voice. Never more has the pathos of being both victim and villain at the same time more evident than in the Final Lair scene. It is gut-wrenching and painful to watch, I can’t imagine how draining it must be on his emotions that he has to do this 8 times a week!

Jonathan Roxmouth’s Phantom is mesmerizing.  (Photo: http://www.phantomsa.co.za)

I am simply enthralled with the way Roxmouth uses his hands. Perhaps because half of his face was covered by the mask, the Phantom uses his hands and body language to express emotions – elegant and, yes, sometimes even flamboyant, hand gestures that he wield like the conjurer that he is, or like a conductor with an imaginary baton, beating in time to the perpetual music in his mind that only he can hear. He beckons Christine with a slow, seductive wave of his fingers, lifting them as she reaches those high notes as if her voice is attached to them and he is pulling the strings.

Hand gestures.

One of my utmost favourites: the classic “hair-slick” during the title song. The gesture originated with Michael Crawford and I think every Phantom thereafter seemed to incorporate it into their performance. And oh, don’t get me started on the cape swishing! Roxmouth. Does. It. PERFECTLY. In the title song just before the hair-slick, he takes off the cape in a movement so dashing and elegant I could almost hear a collective sigh and swooning among the female audience, threw it in the direction of the gondola (without even looking at it) and it landed on the gondola, perfectly draped!  (The gondola was on his masked side, I might add!) *seriously fangirling now* And what about the fully-hooded Phantom sliding his hands down his body as Christine was singing during “Point of No Return”? That has got to be the most sizzling, hottest scene of the entire musical. Honestly, I was blushing throughout the whole scene!

The classic hair-slick gesture.

Can I also say that I love his maniacal laugh with an inappropriate degree of glee? It sounded so sinister and menacing it sends shivers up the spine. (Please stop saying I’m weird…)

I also like the depth of Roxmouth’s take on the Phantom and the subtle nuances that puts his stamp on the role. With the mask on Roxmouth’s Phantom is confident, contemptuous even, of everyone except his beloved Christine, with an air of superiority that belies the insecurity he feels because of his deformity. Without the mask his whole body language his different: he hunches, movements somewhat uncoordinated and clumsy. This is very evident in “Stranger than You Dreamt It” when Christine suddenly took off his mask. At first he was furious, calling her a “prying Pandora” and a “lying Delilah”, but as he slowly reveals the yearnings of his tortured soul his whole demeanour degenerated – the Angel of Music reduced to crawling to Christine, his words scornful yet vulnerable with yearning.

Stripped of his mask, Roxmouth’s Phantom crawls to Christine as he voices his inner anguish.

You get the feeling that when he is stripped of the mask more than his deformity is exposed, more than his true physical form is revealed. As much as it was his protection against the world, the mask is also to convince, not only others, but also himself, that he is not as repugnant as he seems. Even his anger show this marked contrast: with the mask on it is a cold, hard rage, supremely calculating as he devised ways of seeking his revenge. Take off his mask and his rage is feral in its intensity, uncontained and incontrollable, like an animal lashing out in its vengefulness, yet like a child in its simplicity. Roxmouth was very insightful when he said in an interview that the Phantom is, in many ways, very childlike in the way he handles things. Just as a child throws toys and tantrums, the Phantom throws chandeliers when is he upset. XD

His scenes with Claire Lyon were charged with chemistry, Lyon’s voice the perfect foil for Roxmouth’s passionate Phantom. (Apparently, the two are also good friends offstage, the rapport between them very evident.) I also enjoyed his scenes with Anthony Downing’s Raoul because I like the fact that there’s a contrast in the textures and quality of their voices, so that even if you close your eyes and just listen to their voices you could easily pick out which one’s the Phantom and which one is Raoul.

On a sidenote: A very interesting thing about Roxmouth is that he also shares the same story as Christine Daeé. Here’s the story: while originally playing the principal Raoul and Phantom understudy in the South African production, he fell into the lead role when the original actor to play the Phantom fell ill and suffered from voice problems. Roxmouth was called by the producers to step in, and from every account I’ve read, boy, did he win everyone over, critics and audiences alike! So there he was, this almost-25-year-old young actor reliving Christine Daeé’s fateful turnabout to play the Phantom on the musical’s 25th year of inception.

Talk about fate and destiny.

Roxmouth as principal Raoul with Anthony Downing as alternate.

Rehearsing for the role of Raoul.

Heck, now I’m really curious how his Raoul will sound.

As soon as the show ended I began experiencing Phantom withdrawal symptoms. Some serious regrets surfaced: regret that I didn’t get orchestra seats, and regret that I wasn’t able to watch it again, because all the tickets were sold out by then.

I’m adding another one to my bucket list.

Watch POTO again.

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In a “Phantom” state of mind – part 1

Check.

That’s one item off my bucket list.

I know, I know. Two months has passed since watching the Phantom of the Opera at the CCP on the Manila leg of its World Tour. The cast have already left for Korea for the promotion of its Korea run. I am still caught up in the sheer magic that is the Phantom of the Opera. The musical has been a  favourite of mine for half my life (I bought the 1987 Original London Cast Recording CD a couple of years after it was released.). ALW’s music is magnificent, but what got me hook, line, and sinker was the character of the Phantom. (I really, really have a weakness for tortured, damaged characters. A certain Heathcliff immediately comes to mind.)

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