Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway in 1988 two years before Entertainment Weekly was founded. Broadway's longest-running show has grossed more than $5 billion worldwide (nearly twice what Avatar has hauled in). And that crystal chandelier shows no sign that it will ever fall on stage for good.
How is this relic holding up on the Great White Way? Just fine, thank you very much. The elaborate, mechanical set from that famed falling chandelier to the candelabras emerging from the floor may seem a tad outdated, but it's remarkably effective even if it doesn't elicit the how'd-they-do-that gasps of early performances. The story, with book by Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe (based on Gaston Leroux's novel), is a sturdy and durable romantic yarn that's proven remarkably resilient. Likewise is Lloyd Webber's score, which opens with blaring electric-guitar riffs before easing into stirring Puccini-inflected melodies.
As Christine, the aspiring soprano who becomes the muse of the Phantom, Jennifer Hope Wills has the charisma and brunette ringlets of the role's originator, Sarah Brightman, if not quite her voice; Wills was a tad sharp on several of her solos. John Cudia, who's been playing the Phantom for several years, is stronger vocally and projects a fine sense of menace. (The show's producers just announced that beginning Sept. 7, Hugh Panaro and Sara Jean Ford will take over as the Phantom and Christine, respectively.) The real standout in the current production is the dynamic and rich-voiced Ryan Silverman as Raoul, the opera patron and rival for Christine's affections.
Some other aspects of the show have gotten a bit sloppy: A few lines were fumbled here and there. The choreography and sound levels in ''Prima Donna,'' the Act One octet involving most of the main characters, were seriously out of balance. And the supporting cast seemed a little less sparkling than it could be; the opera's notoriously spotty ballet troupe shouldn't be quite as hapless as it's presented here.
But these are relatively minor quibbles about a production that continues to make history with each performance. And if you do pay a visit to the Phantom again, perhaps as a refresher before the planned spring 2011 opening of Lloyd Webber's sequel, Love Never Dies, I just dare you to keep those tunes out of your head in the hours and days (and weeks) that follow. As the lyric goes, that's all I ask of you. B+
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)