The new Phantom of the Opera sequel will be set in Coney Island, which tempts me to write a mini- dissertation on the journey from high art (opera) to low (carnival) via middle (big-budget musical theater). About how all three forms are suffering compared to new-media art (which can be high or low, from experimental films to someone farting on YouTube). But while musical theater plus circus sounds like a pairing made in Cheryl heaven, in this case it’s not.
Maybe I saw the original Phantom too late into the hype, but I thought Christine and Raoul were boring, and since I was at the height of my identity-politics-driven college years, I was pissed that the ugly guy had to meet a tragic end. I pretend to hate Andrew Lloyd Webber in favor of the more respectable Stephen Sondheim, but it truth there are plenty of ALW shows I like: Sunset Boulevard, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar…and yes, even Cats.
(What? I like dancing and I like actual cats [because it’s not all a metaphor—it kind of is about cats, which is why everyone hates it, I guess].)
But Phantom is not on my good list. And I wonder whether Webber will make Coney Island all broke-down and sleazy, or just a backdrop for lavish set pieces. Because my memories of Phantom are vague, I can’t make a terribly educated guess.
I sort of want it to be great, so that I can see it and love it when the national tour makes its tenth or eleventh trip to L.A. And I sort of want it to suck, because I want all the rickety, hardscrabble coolness of the carnival to be reserved for artists whose lives are just a tad more hardscrabble than ALW’s.
I’ve been doing some reading and writing about circuses lately, and since my budget is less than one of the diamond-y doodads on the Phantom chandelier, I think it’s fair to cast myself as a hardscrabble writer in this instance. I’m interested in the intersection of things that are dark and things that are wholesome, and what is lost if you veer too far toward one or the other. I’m trying to write stuff that’s more intense and magical than stuff I’ve written before.
It’s hard work and I don’t want Andrew Lloyd Webber to beat me to it, dammit. But maybe I shouldn’t knock his freak credentials. Have you noticed how much he looks like David Guest these days?