The opening of "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway on Tuesday was heralded by critics almost as much as it had been hyped by publicists in the preceding months.
"Phantastic," thundered the New York Post's Clive Barnes.
"It's a whale that delivers," wrote Robert Osborne in The Hollywood Reporter, adding that New York's "Phantom" compares "very favorably" to London's.
But despite the general enthusiasm, many of the scribes also found a few sour notes in the "Opera." Wrote USA Today's David Patrick Stearns: "It's almost as if this is a live MTV video without the camera's selective eye to keep the audience from missing the trees for the forest." The score includes "great melodies," he added, but "(Andrew) Lloyd Webber doesn't develop them in ways that flesh out characters or dramatize scenes, and often recycles them until they become tiresome."
Frank Rich of the New York Times called the show "a characteristic Lloyd Webber project--long on pop professionalism and melody, impoverished of artistic personality and passion--that the director Harold Prince, the designer Maria Bjornson and the mesmerizing actor Michael Crawford have elevated quite literally to the roof. . . . a victory of dynamic stagecraft over musical kitsch."
Almost everyone liked the spectacle. Howard Kissel of the New York Daily News found "Phantom" to be "visually the most impressive of the British musicals." Frederick M. Winship of UPI dubbed it "one of the most beautiful stage productions of all time, . . . and one of the most skillfully directed."
Winship's only complaints: "There could have been some editing, perhaps even of the entire graveyard scene, which is muddled, and the lyrics of Charles Hart could have had more polish."
Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press, who began by observing that "Phantom" is "quite simply the best of the British spectaculars," added that the show "sags somewhat in the second act . . . but it recovers for an ending that is as touching as it is satisfying."
The controversial casting (challenged by Actors Equity) of Lloyd Webber's wife, Sarah Brightman, as the leading lady drew mixed notices. Variety's Richard Hummler wrote that Brightman is "an exceptional singer and a competent if less than overpowering acting personality."
Winship was much more impressed by Brightman: "No one needed to have worried about Brightman's star quality."
Michael Crawford's performance in the title role apparently drew unanimous acclaim. "What keeps this wobbly blockbuster from collapsing under its own grandeur is Michael Crawford," wrote Stearns. The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner's Richard Stayton agreed: "The major cause for my personal Phantomania is the man behind The Mask, the underheralded Michael Crawford." Wrote David Richards in the Washington Post: "If you put aside all preconceived notions and let the spell happen, I don't see how you can be disappointed. As with hypnosis, the trick is not to resist."