Sweet Intoxication

So, Phantom #20 is in the books–and since it’s late (or at least later than I’m used to being awake) and I don’t really have anything new to say about the show, I’ll simply allow that anyone seeing it during its current Toronto run won’t be disappointed. The cast is uniformly strong; the two managers are particularly good, while Kim Stengel‘s Carlotta is definitive. Ultimately, however, Phantom‘s success hinges solely on its two lead characters. Marni Raab is a serviceable Christine. I feel like we caught her on an off-night; either that, or she’s still getting into the swing of things (tonight was the show’s first performance in Toronto). Her voice actually cracked, teenage boy-style, during the last note of “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”, which is one of the show’s climactic moments. I’m willing to give her another chance…I mean, at least she’s not Elizabeth De Grazia, right? (Right. The answer is, right.)

But John Cudia, as the Phantom…I mean, I’ve seen some of the all-time great Phantoms (including Peter Karrie, who most self-annointed “Phans” will tell you is the greatest of them all), and I can confidently say that Cudia’s performance ranks right up there with them. Honestly, you have to see him to believe him. I never thought I’d hear a better version of “Music of the Night” than Rene Simard‘s; it might just have happened tonight. Not only does Cudia have the right voice for the part, he’s actually a really good actor. Being a good actor isn’t necessarily a prerequisite to being a good Phantom: the musical is essentially a melodrama, and the acting is almost always subservient to the singing. But Cudia gets the part right, which given the material isn’t the easiest thing to do. He nails the little things–the phrasing, for instance, or the timing–with aplomb. Physically, meanwhile, he cuts an imposing figure. The Phantom is a really difficult part: it requires an ability to garner sympathy from an audience while you’re going around strangling people, as well as a voice that comes from the gods. John Cudia succeeds on both fronts. He’s the real deal. Honestly.

I couldn’t have imagined, way back in 1991, what I was getting myself into when I saw The Phantom of the Opera for the first time. And while it’s getting redundant going again and again and again, seeing the show still makes me feel like I’m revisiting an old friend. It’s a comfort thing at this point–but when the performance is good, it’s a galvanizing experience as well. Tonight galvanized me. Here’s to #21.

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