Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Raoul

After talking about High School Musical, my thoughts have gone to the last show at the Princess of Wales, Phantom of the Opera. I had plenty of time to formulate thoughts on the show since I worked it for ten weeks. I hadn't liked it when I saw it back in 1989 and I still didn't think much of it, although I do like some of the music. However, the cast were superb and acting the crap out of it. Most of them were constantly trying new things to make it more real and resonant.

One of my biggest problems with the show is that I have no sympathy for the Phantom, and very little patience with people who go on about how Christine should have went with him. No, she shouldn't. He was a cold-blooded murderer, terrorist and extortionist. I don't care how bad his life was. He always had a choice. I hate how the show tries to manipulate me to feel sorry for him. I'm immune.

I also really don't care for Christine. I couldn't quite figure it out for the longest time because she feels really weak and yet she shows a spine of steel through a lot of the play. Considering the Phantom played on her grief for her father to manipulate himself into her life, her confusion is understandable. I don't for one minute believe she is sexually attracted to the Phantom. What I see is that he speaks to the artist in her and inspires her to reach for her highest self, but does it as a father figure. So any thought of sexual attraction feels false to me, although I know that's exactly what Hal Prince was going for (look at the design of the false proscenium to get proof).

Then someone pointed it out. She never tells either man she loves them, although she obviously loves both. They make big declarations of love and she just accepts it, not really giving of herself in return. She just exists, really. I don't feel I know her as a person at all and because of that, I don't really care what happens to her.

Yet from the very beginning I've been madly in love with Raoul. It wasn't until this production that I finally got to see him played as the man of action I've always instinctually felt he was. I see so much to admire in him. He's the one who, once he's convinced the Phantom is real, steps up and takes action to end his reign of terror. He's the one who is honest with Christine and loves her for who she really is, not as an object or a voice. (My proof of this is that the play establishes that they spent a lot of time together as teenagers.) The first chance he gets, he takes the risk and tells her he loves her. He's the one willing to sacrifice his own life for her freedom.

How can one not love a character like this?

I was lucky in that both men who played Raoul during the run, Michael Gillis and Greg Mills, were willing to listen to my thoughts on the character. A little cheeky? Maybe, but I care so much about Raoul that I wanted to see him done justice. Michael had the character down (a sanity-saving thing for me) but he actually took my notes and experimented with them, something that was thrilling and gratifying to me. Greg had only played it for two weeks when the show left Toronto but I could see him growing into the character as he spent more time playing him.

I'm going to share the contents of an email I sent Michael about the character. I've added some notes in brackets to clarify where in the show I'm talking about for those who don't know it intimately.

My thoughts on Raoul:

His keywords - command, power, control, love and compassion

IIRC, in post-revolutionary France, men who had titles acquired them through having money and/or power. Raoul would have been brought up with always having his word obeyed without question, except by his parents. The nobility motto is never let them see you sweat. Leave the ranting to the Phantom, petulant child that he is. Raoul is ALWAYS the better man. He should be passionate, determined and focused in his dealings with all things Phantom.

With Christine, he is always loving and compassionate. "Where is your red scarf?" (and the next two lines when he first visits her in her dressing room), I think plays best with teasing affection. Put to lie the Phantom's line "he was bound to love her when he heard her sing" (said in the end of act one) - he's an unreliable narrator and we shouldn't take his word for it. After all, why else would a 14-year-old boy jump into the sea to get a girl's scarf? He had to have a thing for her from way back. And the more compassionate he is with her in her fearful moments on the rooftop (All I Ask of You) and "twisted every way"(during the second notes scene in act two), the more resonance the "show some compassion" line has.

"The disaster will be yours!" (The end of the second notes scene in act two.) Yes, he's pissed - he sees the woman he loves in utter terror, the theatre he's aligned himself with under siege - but this is a threat and a promise. It needs to be controlled anger. The audience should feel his leash. It makes Raoul that much more of a threat. Isn't it more terrifying when someone has his anger barely under his control instead of venting it?

"Show some compassion!" (When Raoul is against the fence, trying to get into the Phantom's lair near the end of the play.) This line works better as passionate, not angry. At this point he's scared, worried (about) what has happened to Christine, probably angry at himself for not keeping his word and protecting her. All these notes should be there, with his fear for Christine the overriding concern.
One thing I did note later on when Greg took on the role is that if Raoul is completely focused on Christine to the exclusion of all else, it ends up making Raoul weak. Greg made a completely legitimate choice when he first started playing the character that way - after all, Raoul's main function is as the romantic interest. It made the notes/Prima Donna section really interesting but it really diminished his impact in the second act. Raoul's the patron, the leader, and there needs to be hints of that persona from the very beginning. Greg realized that as well and was integrating that side of the character when the show left.

I could go on, but it's now very late. (Why is the time stamp off? It's almost 2am.) I didn't think I'd write this much. Just goes to show that when I get on something I care about, it's very hard to shut me up.

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