Looking back, I find I’ve seen “Phantom” 15 times: 7 in NYC (where it opened in 1988, and where I kept conducting Pitt Informal Program theater groups to see it), 5 in Pittsburgh (I saw that first visit several times), 2 in Toronto (more PIP tours) and 1 in Cleveland. I also crawled all over and above the set in Minneapolis/St.Paul, to do one of our several 1993 preview stories. But I never did see it in London, even though I took groups there who did; there was always something else that night I wanted to see more.
As this last suggests, my response to “Phantom” has been ambivalent. On that 1993 first visit to Pittsburgh, we covered the hell out of it for months and then all through the 8-week run (was it really that long?). Frankly, writing about it was always fun, since it was such a Big Event. But I was always dubious about the show itself, much of which seemed transparent hokum. I always loved the mysterioso beginning, with all that swirling drapery, melodramatic organ and parodies of old operas, but a lot of the narrative never made much sense and it never paid off for me emotionally.
Over time, on its returns to Pittsburgh in 1999 and 2006, I found my enjoyment of the romantic drapery, mists and organ chords gradually lessened, but my objections to the thinness of character and plot gradually lessened, too. Maybe I just learned to take it for the skillfully concocted confection it is. So I’m looking forward to seeing it again this time, almost like an old friend you never quite approved of but came to be fond of, anyway.
-- Chris Rawson