Picks and Pans Review: The Phantom of the Opera

updated 03/07/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/07/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Original Cast

Critics are forever sniping at Andrew Lloyd Webber's show music: Derivative, repetitive, glitzy, pandering, colorless and cold are just a few of the epithets hurled (sometimes fairly) at the songs of the 39-year-old Briton. Yet his hits {Cats, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Song and Dance and Starlight Express) have virtually saved the musical theater from extinction. (Stateside, only the peerless Stephen Sondheim is holding up his end.) Perhaps the naysayers simply can't believe that any composer who writes music you can hum (and earns an estimated $150,000 a week in royalties alone) is doing serious work. Lloyd Webber's latest and best show, The Phantom of the Opera, just might convince them. Recently opened on Broadway after a record-breaking 16 months in London, Phantom is surely the most rapturously romantic musical of the decade. And the spell extends to the cast recording. The show is, of course, based on Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel about a disfigured composer who stalks the backstage of the Paris Opera, directing the career of a young soprano he adores from afar. The tale has clearly touched a personal chord in Lloyd Webber; he responds to the story with a profligate outpouring of melody. Even without the spectacle of Hal Prince's staging, the music—not always ably abetted by Charles Hart's and Richard Stilgoe's lyrics—stirs, swells and haunts. The casting of Lloyd Webber's second wife, Sarah Brightman, as the Phantom's object of worship seems to have brought out a passionate intensity barely tapped in the composer's previous scores. Brightman's voice, all shimmering loveliness on such ballads as Think of Me and All I Ask of You, takes on astonishing force as she is drawn inexorably into the Phantom's "music of the night." But it is Michael Crawford's love-tortured Phantom that tears at the emotions. Crawford, a comic actor best known in the U.S. as the gawky store clerk in the film version of Hello, Dolly!, delivers a historic stage performance. His once reedy voice has taken on a mature resonance. He does more than sing these powerful songs. He acts them with an ardor that uncovers a gargoyle's agonized heart. Crawford's duet with Brightman on Point of No Return reaches dramatic heights seldom attained outside opera. With his rhapsodic Phantom, Lloyd Webber has found the vehicle at last to give his deepest feelings full rein. (Polydor)

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