If theatergoers at Santa Barbara’s Granada theater were expecting Andrew Lloyd Weber when they arrived at Phantom of the Opera Saturday night, they were sorely mistaken -- but far from disappointed. On June 2nd, Vox Lumiere presented a one-night engagement at the classic opera-house style theater, just one stop on their tour around the country. This troupe has invented something spectacularly unique: a blend of soul-pumping rock concert, dance, and theater intertwined with a silent film -- “silents you can hear.” The result is a captivating, one-of-a-kind experience.
Unlike the live-action re-enactments of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Vox Lumiere presents an entirely original score and soundtrack by Kevin Saunders Hayes. The musical numbers work with the silent film’s story projected behind them, leaving performers to halt mid-song in darkness whenever necessary. From Beastie Boys-esque rapping with megaphones, dreamy pop-rock ballads, eerie off-kilter opera, and upbeat funk, the music is riveting, propelling the Phantom’s seamlessly synchronized story.
Phantom of the Opera opens with a spellbinding intro akin to a melodious circus, with our performers clad in velvet and fishnet, steampunk corsets and combat boots. The 1925 cut of Phantom of the Opera sets a familiar scene: as two new unsuspecting owners take charge of the Paris Opera House, they are warned of its murderous inhabitant - the Phantom. The plot continues mostly as we know it, with a vamped up tone and epic score. “The Ballet (Dance For me)” is a tangle of musical genres; a sultry rock ‘n’ roll look at the politics and egos present during the casting of Faustus.
Phantom’s cast is marvelous, from the Phantom himself (Chase Matthews) to his obsession, Christine (Alison Janes - Onstage, Victoria Levy - Backstage), her secret lover Raoul (director/choreographer Trance Thompson), and their multi-talented ragtag group of Gothic costars. Janes, swathed in blue, purple, and red light, brings a fire to the typically melancholy Christine. Coupled with the film’s wide-eyed heroine, Mary Philbin, the two Christines smile deliciously, contemplating their tortured rock ‘n’ roll temptation, the Phantom.
While Lon Chaney (The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) portrays the Phantom onscreen as a mutilated monster, Matthews is a charismatic tormentor. His voice rings out like an 80s metal love song to the eerily seductive “And I’m Watching” and “Can’t Run,” a worthy adversary to the melodic, soothing R&B vocal stylings of Raoul’s “I’ll Let You Know.” One of the most powerful songs of the night was “Let Me Love You Now”, featuring the trio caught up in the ultimate love triangle of the known and unknown.
Let’s not forget the other performers, all of whom make up a slick Greek chorus of sorts, punctuating scenes from the film with get-up-and-dance numbers. “Backstage (Hey, It could Happen To You)” is a breathless blur of song and brilliant choreography, while ballerinas and opera singers dash about the film in a flurry of excitement. Daniele Skalsky steals every scene she’s in as The Grand Dame, while Juliette Dwyer fully embodies sass as the Dame’s smirking diva daughter, Carlotta.
Another interesting take on Vox Lumiere’s performance was the use of Victoria Levy as an alternate, more somber Christine, and her sweet lament, “Release Me”. While it seemed that everyone was humming a tune from the show as they exited the theater, none was so catchy and fun as the opening to Act II, the ‘Merry Mad Masque d’Opera.’ Onscreen, the Phantom’s skull mask taunted the extravagant crowd; onstage, Tim Brown led the performers in a 70s disco romp, “The Masked Ball (1899)” -- jumping and twisting as they sang out, “Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1899!”
By Phantom of the Opera’s end, the audience was cheering, singing, and ready to dance. The performance was at times haunting, at times a playful romp - just like the 1925 film itself. Kevin Saunders Hayes and Vox Lumiere have crafted something truly bewitching - a fusion of dance, music, and film that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Vox Lumiere is currently touring nationwide. For tickets, dates, and more, head over to voxlumiere.com
Photos by Brian C. Janes.