Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular Lackey/Holden/Ragone - 13 December 2008 9:30pm


Michael Lackey.


Dude. I was right when I named his illustration, "The Magnificent MichaelLackey."


I've been spending a lot of time and going out of my way recently to see people who are the alternates or understudies in the show. I'm not sure if that shows growth on my part, but it's nice to see a variety of actors that I've neglected to experience before. There's a wealth of talent that goes unnoticed by the general theatergoing public that deserves appreciation, and Michael -- long associated with the Phantom of the Opera property -- is no exception.


Michael is an old-school Phantom and as the saying goes, there's no school like the old school. Trained in the classic style from the era of Crawford, Gaines, and Little, his Phantom is like visiting an old friend -- if your friend is an old, deformed, at times furiously angry and hopelessly human, criminal mastermind (and who doesn't have a friend like that, right?). A classic is always a welcome respite from the new stuff.


"Freebird," man!


But I digress. I tend to do that a lot, don't I?


Pre-Show: Compared to my traffic-nightmare/nutrient-deprived experience merely six days earlier with the US Tour, this was a much more relaxed event. While I was only attending the late show, I got there before the early show to have a leisurely dinner, do a little shopping, listen to some opera in St. Mark's Square, and hang out in the conference room area where it was nice and quiet. Actually, it was while I was lounging around the conference rooms that I noticed something rather odd. Apparently, the production design of the Vegas production took some elements from the existing Venetian interior design when re-envisioning Maria Björnson's sets. If you look at the mirrors in that area, they're made up of several smaller square panels, each corner connected by the same bronze stud featured on the edges of the central mirror panel in Christine's dressing room. Later, when waiting to be admitted into the auditorium, I also noticed that the handles of the auditorium doors bore a striking resemblance to the Phantom's boat staff. Cool.


Another thing of note when I was waiting for the auditorium to open was the huge line to get in. And I mean HUGE. It stretched all the way from the lobby to the casino floor. And when the doors finally opened, and we were in visual range of the understudy board with the lone name on it being Michael Lackey as the Phantom, the gentleman behind me said to his companion, "Oh, Michael Lackey is going to be the Phantom. He's really good. I saw him years ago in [name of city I can't remember]. You'll like him."


Hey, no pressure, Michael :)


For reasons I'd learn later, the early show ran long and we weren't admitted until 9:15 or so. Once inside, I felt a relaxed excitement at sitting in this auditorium once again.


9:30 - the show hasn't started yet.


9:35 - the orchestra begins tuning up.




FYI: Section A, seat 30 is front row center. Booya! It'll also get some guy in a military monkey suit accusing you of bribing the box office for such a choice seat while he and his lovely companion had to settle for row G. Ya snooze, ya lose, mon capitan!


Prologue or: "Weird Not Hearing Michael Up There": This was my first time seeing Andrew Ragone, and I was impressed right off the bat. His Old Raoul looked old and feeble and also sounded it. Whispering "monsieur" (instead of "boy") in a raspy voice, his vocals were quiet and restrained, yet he stretched out "indeed" to give it a wistful feeling that was very touching. And after he was done, he looked away as if the memories of the past were too much for him and he was fighting to hold back tears. Hey, Andrew Ragone: Raoul 3.0! Nice job!


Overture or: "HOLY CRAP, IT'S COMING RIGHT FOR US!!!": Loud. The kinda loud that shoves you back in your seat and makes you look like you're participating in those old NASA G-force tests that push all the skin back on your fa--




The main portion of the chandelier swung rather low as it came off the stage. If I reached out, I'm pretty sure I could gave brushed my fingertips against some of the crystals before it arced up to meet its other parts. The front row turned around and like a wave the rest of the front half of the orchestra section seemed to follow suit to see the ghostly shapes dance above us, the mixture of warm golden globes and cool blue shafts of light mysteriously beautiful (Globes and shafts. Insert Beavis and Butthead laugh here).


Hannibal or "What's That Dog In The Top Hat And Cane Doing In This Scene?": As far as Carlotta intros go, Geena Jeffries Mattox's was rather sedate, I thought. Nice, but didn't play up the comedy that many do to varying degrees. I did a double-take when the rest of the Hannibal ensemble entered, since apparently ZacharyQuintoTV'sSylar had joined the cast as the Slave Master. Not really, but this new fella (a vacation swing, I was told) sure did look like him. Don't scalp the Princess, Sylar! I don't care if she has the ability to constantly trip in her hoopskirt; you don't honestly want that power, do you?


As the rehearsal reached its climax, Geena stood center stage at a three-quarter angle with this confident look in her eye as all the other cast members swirled around behind her. The contrast between her stillness and the motion of the others was trés cool. And the image of all the color and movement made me suddenly hear these alternate lyrics:


Lucky there's a family guy

Lucky there's a man who,

positively can do,

All the things that make us…

Laugh and cry!

He's a Family Guuuuuuuyyy!


Anyway, once the superfastblinkandyou'llmissit exposition portion of the scene got started, I took the opportunity to watch some of the characters I usually miss out on. But first, I took notice of Tina Walsh's Madame Giry. This is probably the standard choreography, but I'd never noticed how Giry keeps her back to the audience a number of times in this scene. The fact that she's turned away from the audience makes her more aloof and mysterious. Throughout the show, in fact, Walsh was the über-aloof ballet mistress. At this point, it made me wonder what kind of relationship her Giry would have with Brianne's Meg. Neglectful parent and abandoned child, I figured.


The scene moved like gangbusters, but the near-overlapping of dialogue sounded real this time and not like it was just being rushed (meaning dialogue that stepped on another line felt like a legitimate interruption). When Geena began to sing, "Think of Me," I took notice of Larry Wayne Morbitt and Doug Carfae (who plays Lefevre), who both looked immensely proud of their prima donna. Doug actually had plenty of nice moments throughout the scene as he reacted to other characters: bug-eyed and tight-lipped ("Shut up! Will you please shut up! They've already bought the car, don't let them look under the hood now!") as he backed Meg nearly into the wings after her first Phantom outburst, and a nervous expression and clenched smile ("nonononono… calm down! Don't say anything!") when Carlotta began her rant. Other great moments were Brianne's enthusiastic aside to Christine ("You can do it! C'mon!") when the opportunity arose for someone to fill the vacancy made by Carlotta's hasty departure and Brianne's smug smile to Reyer when Christine found her confidence and really started to sing.


Think of Me or: "Raoul Reenacts Julia Roberts' 'Woo Woo Woo!' From 'Pretty Woman'": As I've said in the past, Kristi Holden has a very lovely voice -- and the song was performed beautifully. But Andrew Ragone's enthusiasm as Raoul really stood out for me here. His "Bravo!" was nice and loud -- to the degree that if you were at an actual opera and someone did that, you might be a little embarrassed sitting next to the guy. He also applauded loudly a moment before the actual audience did - while Kristi was just finishing her final note and the music was still reaching a crescendo. Again, awesome job.


Angel of Music or: "If Brianne Were Any Sweeter, I'd Be In A Diabetic Coma": It was nice to see Tina lean in towards Kristi when she said, "He will be pleased" -- it's a nice moment of connection between the two characters that shows a little bit behind the ballet mistress' starchy façade. But the glimpse quickly vanished once she turned her attention back to her ballet rats. As the crossed the stage, Brianne came up behind Tina and placed her hand on her shoulder, looking as if she was going to say something to her. But it was only a moment before she removed it and looked down dejectedly when Giry ignored her and continued walking.


Michael's voice-over was very ghostly. Why can't all Phantoms sound like that?


Brianne's vocals are always improving and that night might very well be the best I've heard her sing since I first saw this production. Her acting is on par with it as well. Even when facing slightly away from the audience, her body language conveys the character's emotions and attitudes well. In this case during the pause after she sings, "who is this new tutor?" she bounced in a giddy manner, flushed with happiness at her friend's success and eager to be let in on her secret, only to show confusion with Christine's unusual reply. Her line, "but the words aren't yours" was held long and strong, better every time I see the show.


Coming back to Kristi, I liked how her eyes were closed and her face had a wistful look as she sang, "all around me…" -- I don't recall her doing that in the past and I thought it to be a very nice bit of business. Tina's ice queen Giry's entrance interrupted the pair and her "request" for Meg to return to practice was delivered in such a cool (as in icy) manner that I felt really sad for the ballerina.


Little Lotte/The Mirror or: "Do You Like My Mirror? I Got It From Hell-kea!": Lawson Skala's "They appear to have met… before!" had a knowing lilt to it, but not quite a "nod nod wink wink say no more" implication. Kristi did the surprised/alarmed "Monsieur?" with a half-turn of her head while holding her gown closed and then showed a distinct shift in mood when she realized whom it was. Understated, but nice.


I rather like what Kristi was doing in this scene; the way she mouthed Andrew's lines about goblins or shoes as she looked off into the distance and appeared to be less than willingly brought down memory lane by Raoul -- as if those memories, while good ones, were so closely associated with her father that they only brought sadness now. Throughout this, Andrew projected a believable warmth and connection. When he called her "little Lotte" just before he left, Kristi laughed affectionately, but as he rushed off, she suddenly became worried, knowing the wrath such an indiscretion would produce.


Michael's voice seethed and burned, his anger obvious but not out of control. I was a bit surprised that his voice wasn't as low as I'd thought it would be (probably his Auctioneer voice influencing me). I also consciously noticed for the first time that the mirror is underlit once the Phantom starts to speak; giving a somewhat hellish visual to accompany this voice from beyond. The reveal in the mirror was also beautifully realized, and my seat was the prime location to see it -- the Phantom's face, hat and shoulders framed by the faint impression of the stone passageway behind him.


The mirror trick looked better than I'd remembered previously. There was enough smoke to obscure Kristi's walkthrough the mirror but not so much as to completely obscure Andrew when he came back into the dressing room.


Phantom of the Opera or: "This Week, On 'The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau'": I have to tell you, NOTHING compares to being front row for this scene, and it's never looked better than in Vegas. From the use of the doubles to traverse from stage level immediately to the travelator high above (which elicited a whispered, "How'd they do that?!?" from the person sitting next to me) to the mist rolling off the stage and straight into your face, genuine chills run down your spine as the scene unfolds.


Michael exuded authority, maturity and a sort of gravitas I associate with seasoned actors like Sir Anthony Hopkins. His movements were smooth and controlled; the hair slick was here as were all the classic beats. I was starting to get an inkling of what is Phantom would be like, but the next scene would help solidify it.


Music of the Night or: "There's No School Like The Old School": Kristi started this scene off with her fingers to her throat, shocked at the notes she'd just sung. Glancing down at his score as he sang, "my music…", you could see the conscious change in focus as Michael turned to Kristi to begin MotN. The combo of an old school Phantom and a new school Christine proved to be quite a nice matchup (Zombie!Christines have never been my cup of tea, regardless of Crawford's preference for them). Kristi wavered in and out of awareness, although for the majority of the scene (and honestly, throughout a number of other scenes), her expression looked like she had just woken up from a nap.


Kristi Holden, I dub thee "Sleepy-Time!Christine"! You are now in good company amongst such luminaries as Lisa "Soprano Supreme!Christine" Vroman and Sandra "C-Cup!Christine" Joseph.


Throughout this scene, Michael surprised me with his range; how high and how low his notes could get (his "softly, deftly," for example was low and deep, which I adored). His MotN felt like a statement to Christine -- a teacher talking to a student, a mature man speaking to a young woman -- not so much a song of seduction, although the beginnings of it were subtly apparent (particularly when Michael instigated a Davis Gaines "touch myself" moment). He continued to show his old school roots when they got to the signature pose, although I think the heavy sigh as he put his arm around her was a newer addition. "Touch me"? Whispered into her ear (SO much win for that), and no touchy-feely-gropey Christine for the "savour each sensation" bit, either. I prefer it this way, actually. If the Phantom's pawing his protégée this early on, there's really nowhere else for him to go in PoNR except… I don't know… maybe dry humping her on the bench.


And on that classy note, let's return to the review.


Okay, Michael sold the "Alien"-chest-bursting Mirror Bride bit (sorry, the exploding mirror bit always reminds me of that flick) by reacting in a manner that it was an accident and goes into a minor panic when Christine faints. I still can't quite figure out how the London Phantoms manage to sweep in and catch her without having it look like that was the plan all along (and hence, making the Phantom seem a bit creepy), so this worked well for me. Michael also showed great concern as he knelt over her, much like I remember Brad Little doing with his Christines, and Michael's final line was sung as a heartfelt plea, the emotion very apparent in his voice.


Stranger than You Dreamt It or "Featuring Special Guest Star…": Michael was very serious while he did his business behind the organ… Let me rephrase that. Michael's interpretation of the Phantom as he composes was serious, but it was punctuated with bursts of energy as he scribbled down notes and the played them back in his head. And as Kristi finished her line, "and in that boat, there was a man…", Michael used that moment to issue a deep laugh. Kinda scary, but at the same time, the kind of laugh one makes when he's pleased with something he's done; in this case, an artist creating a piece of art.


The unmasking was swift, and Michael stood at the organ for what seemed to be a long time, although it couldn't have been more than a second and a half tops before he turned to Kristi. Deprived of his mask, Michael's Phantom seemed off-balance, literally. He would lurch at Kristi in Universal movie monster fashion, trying to grab her only to have her slip just out of reach. And when Kristi fell forward onto the floor, I realized Christine's gown was being played by an understudy costume from the Broadway production (i.e. Hel-LO legs!). After Michael cried out, "Curse you!" he collapsed as well, leaving only the sound of both their tears in the subsequent silence.


I loved the fact that Michael used the Brent Barrett "cockroach crawl" since it's such a freaky visual and I also liked the sorrow in his voice when he turned away from Kristi again before she returned his mask.


Notes/Prima Donna or: "You Need A Scorecard To Keep Track Of What's Going On Here": This scene is always tricky for me to comment on since there's so much happening simultaneously. So I think I'm going to go with a list of things I found interesting:

- John Leslie Wolfe read his first note completely through before his character seemed to comprehend what it actually meant.

- Based on his reaction to Raoul's complaint, it really seems like Lawson's Firmin really is concerned only with monetary matters.

- Why does Geena still have her Hannibal eye shadow on?

- I liked Lawson's big shrug and headshake at the end of the wave of head turns

- A murmur of laughter could be heard in the audience as the managers snuck away in an exaggerated manner to the side.

- Lawson's line reading of, "how MY(?) theatre is to be run" carried such an offended tone.

- The simple gesture of Brianne placing her hand on Tina's arm as they stood together brought a nice moment of connection between the two characters.

- Another nice line reading from Lawson: "O.G." = "Oh… gee." (read: "Hmph. This is a bit of a pickle now, isn't it?")

- Larry's all around performance as Piangi being like Carlotta's yes-man agent.

- Geena's "here, take my parasol while I cry" bit: always a classic.

- Lawson's "saying this is like pulling teeth" reading of "We need you too."

- Geena practically spitting the word "Ingénue" like it was one of George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say on Television.

- The managers really laying it on thick with the gushing. Grab your hip boots, it's gonna be chest-deep tonight!

- Brianne being all Ninja!Meg sneaking up alongside Andrew as he walked over to Tina and trying to read the note in his hand.

Il Muto or: "Is This The New 'Dead or Alive' Videogame?": There was lots of, um, jiggling during the ballet sequence. Guess that's all I have to say about that.


No, wait, that's not true. I had other observations. Like this must be the first time I've noticed that Raoul and the managers are visible beneath the boxes at the start of this scene. Go figure.


Kristi's "Serafimo ass volcano"? Meh, I've seen better. Not as swift as some. It was more along the lines of windshield wipers on medium speed. Guess you could call that a "Serafimo half-ass volcano." Shake it like a white girl, Kristi!


I liked Marc Cedric Smith's "slit throat" pantomime as Don Attilio, and Geena's "little fool" was like venom beneath honey -- a professional doing her best to keep up appearances despite her anger. And did Geena change something, 'cuz I don't recall her ever bleating like a sheep before. Nice one, too. It was also a nice moment when she sort of primps herself after they return to their position on the bed. I don't recall seeing Piangi rush onstage to console Carlotta before, either. Man, I really have to pay more attention to this scene rather than craning my neck to try to catch a glimpse of Meg doing her quick-change in the wings.


John's stammering André looks to have been altered a bit since last year. A little more over-the-top in the whimpering nervousness and shuffling offstage like a crab with the programme hiding his face. I like it very much.


The stuntmen's Buquet hanging was great (it looked like the Phantom let him struggle a little longer before he let him drop and snap his neck) -- although there was enough ambient light for me to see Buquet suddenly come back to life and grab hold of the noose as he was lowered to the stage during the transition into the next scene. Regardless, I wish they'd incorporate this into the original productions for that dangererous quality it brings back to the title character.


All I Ask of You/Reprise or: "Hey Michael, Can You See Me Writing This?: Okay, some good moments in here. Kristi started off nice and frantic, and Andrew played the opening like he couldn't quite understand what Christine was talking about. And when she started going on about the Phantom's eyes holding all the sadness of the world, he turned and took a few steps away in frustration. It really felt like he was a suitor genuinely concerned about his love's emotional distress but helpless to do anything because this mysterious thing that seemed to have some sort of hold on her. And when Michael's voice echoed in the air, it was almost like the wind -- you could barely make out the word "Christine," it was so subtle and elusive.


Only a few things of note this time for the lovers' duet. One, Andrew had to bend down about a mile or so before his lips could reach Kristi's. Two, I liked Kristi's nervous exuberance (given voice in a slight giggle right after she sang, "I must go") at the end of this scene. And three, I liked the fact that Andrew kissed her hand as they descended the stairs. Great little moments.


Michael's reprise was good. Hurt but contained a first, tearful once he heard Raoul and Christine's voices in the distance, followed by a controlled anger at the end.


Masquerade or: "I've Got My Binoculars Ready For The Hip Swish. What Do You Mean, 'But You're Already Sitting In The Front Row, Ya Perv'?": It looks like FiddlePhan was right, the managers do step out all the way into the center left aisle to do the André costume reveal, and it did get more of a response than I recall ever hearing before. And honestly, THAT there is a proper staircase :)


Kristi's delivery of "Look, your future bride" had a coy flavor to it, which was an interesting choice, I thought. And what's this? Where's The Hip Swish?!? Did I miss it? Don't tell me I missed it!! But I had my opera glasses ready and everything!!! *waves hands* Wait! Stop the show! Do-over! Please! I'm beggin' ya!!!


CURSES! Foiled again!!!


Uh… Hey look, Tina pulled Brianne back and shielded her from the Red Death when she tried to reach out and help Christine. Seems a bit contradictory to everything I'd seen before, but at least it's in there.


Giry's Confession/Notes II/Twisted Every Way or: "Is There Any Way We Can Frankenstein This Scene Some More?": Probably my least favorite part of the Vegas production with the exception of lack of apple porn, which I personally think should be a federal crime (where are the Theatre Police when you need them?), due to how it essentially mashes the scenes together and breezes past any further moments for the secondary characters. But my reservations aside, there were some good things done here.


Andrew standing at the front row has an almost "breaking the fourth wall" quality to it that it sort of throws you off what's happening. But as he sang, "But the answer is staring us in the face," a smile began to form on his lips, and you could see the gerbil wheel in Raoul's mind turning (I'm only joking. Andrew's Raoul is well-developed and nuanced as you've already read in this review so far). Kristi, in contrast to most Christine's, was rather quiet and subdued -- probably 'cuz she was sleepy (I keed, I keed!) -- and only started to react with intensity towards the end. Andrew took the opportunity to interject his own moments into Christine's soliloquy; his body language conveying concern and an attempt at support while trying to convince her to go along with his ingenious plan (and he did all that with his head pushed forward a bit, brows a bit furrowed, and a half-whispered, "Christine…" Dude! You're too cool for school!).


Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again/Wandering Child or: "Don't Pick Your Nose With Those Gloves On" (Thanks Very Much, Phantomfett, For That Visual): Sadly, not much to report with "Wishing." Kristi sang it wonderfully, but overall I didn't find anything distinct about her performance. But there was one moment when she sang, "You were warm and gentle," that she had this warm, longing look as if the memory of her life with her father brought her great comfort.


When Michael emerged from the cross, I couldn't help but notice the bulky gloves he wore. Planning on doing some spot-welding up there, Phantom? He used the "fathering gaze" line that I like so much, and the interaction between both he and Kristi felt like there was a real tug-of-war between them to bring her back under his influence. And oh yeah, I reiterate, I really love it when Michael gets into his lower register. Hits pleasure centers in my brain the same way Crawford's upper register does (look at me trying to sound all expert-like about singing. I have no clue if I'm even using the right terminology).


From my angle, the fireballs looked like they were coming right at Andrew and Kristi, which was good. They were probably heading parallel to the mausoleum, but hey, it was still convincing from the front row. Michael's "Don't go!" was very old school: not an arrogant, sarcastic comment thrown at them as they flee, but more a genuine, "Wait! Stop!" Which is actually rather odd, when you think about it. And wouldn't you know it, there is one drawback to sitting this close. The wall of flame vaporized one of my contacts. No, more than vaporized, it neutronized it. You know what that means? A complete particle reversal.


Before the Premiere or: "I'm Convinced There Used To Be A Curtain Here": Apparently it's called "acting" since they completely sell the idea of there being a curtain between the ensemble and the police and managers that you think there is one. And that "curtain rising" trick of the light is sweet.


Point of No Return or: "I Loves Me Some Apple!PoNR": Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like PoNR was stretched out a bit this time -- it didn't zip by as I remember in the past.


The ensemble was suitably joyous and raucous, and Brianne did her extra flirty leg flick and twirl along with a sly smile as she passed by Passarino. Sort of a Mae West, "Come up and see me sometime" look… *shudder*


Anybody got a cigarette?


There was quite a bit more Apple!PonR this time that I recall ever seeing before in Vegas (nice to know things have improved), so my eyes fixed themselves on the apple as Kristi moved it this way and that; breathing on it, rubbing it on her thigh (sure, the prompter's box was actually blocking my view of part of this, but I could imagine well enough), cupping it in her palms, running it down in an S-curve across her cheek, throat, and cleavage. And in true Vegas style, she doubled down on the cleavage before moving on with the scene.


When Kristi had thrown back the hood and the police been pulled back, Michael's singing took on the same hopeful, yet tentative feeling I recall from Brad Little's performance back in '03. As he came up to Kristi, he looked down at the ring, as if the idea had just occurred to him of what he should do. And after forcing it onto Kristi's hand, she yanked the mask and wig off to reveal the twisted, tire-tread horror that was his face.


Brianne screamed after revealing Piangi dead behind the curtain, and as she reached out to Kristi in an effort to do something to help her friend, Michael turned around and -- in a brilliant moment, Brianne screamed again at the horrific creature in front of her. I LOVE IT!! Cue the chandelier, and we all turned around to see it plummet into the audience behind us…


Down Once More/Track Down This Murderer or: "Every '80s Mega-Musical Needs A Guy Jumping Off A Bridge. It's The Law": Is that a fake Piangi arm on the stretcher?


I've said in the past how the removal of a couple of the Phantom's lines in this scene detract a bit from the sympathy I feel for the character compared to the original production. Well, as the boat came to a momentary halt, Michael leaned forward and looked like he was going to say something to Christine but was interrupted by the sound of the mob. Hey, at least it was implied that there was more to this scene than we got to see!


Final Lair or: "The Magnificent MichaelLackey": Now this is what I'm talking about. Classic Phantom peppered with nice, original elements. The scene started off with high emotion, Michael dragging Kristi into the lair and throwing her roughly to the floor. Kristi, new school Christine that she is, stood and showed some courage in her opening lines to the Phantom, no fear in her voice when she sang, "Am I now to be prey to your lust for flesh?" Michael's anger was not abated in his reply, even reaching a hand out at the vicinity of her chest as he growled, "have also denied me the joys of the flesh" (ooh! Cheeky monkey!). His subsequent lines, however, showed great originality in that instead of self-pity, Michael's Phantom conveyed self-loathing at his physical affliction -- hating himself for what he is but at the same time refusing to let it deny him what he wants.


When Andrew appeared at the portcullis, any headway Christine might have made in defusing the Phantom's mood was quickly squashed as Michael shifted into full-on sinister mastermind mode. As Andrew pleaded for Christine's freedom, Michael sat on his throne, his hands over his heart, head tilted back and sticking his lower lip out in a comically pouty manner before laughing darkly. It was a great moment considering most Phantoms just sit there looking annoyed. In fact, I was so focused on what Michael was doing; I forgot to check if Andrew succeeded in not doing the infamous "Hi ho neighbor" pose of other Raouls while waiting to be let inside.


Once Andrew was up in the cage and Kristi had responded to his ultimatum, Michael showed off more of that old school charm as his Phantom reacted with hurt, as if he didn't expect her to come back at him with such strength of will. He even lifted the edge of his score slightly and seemed to murmur, "but… the music…" But his temper soon returned and the rest of the scene really played out like I had gone back in time to see other great Phantoms from the past: jerking away from Christine's touch as she tried to appeal to his mercy, a dismissive wave of his arm as he crossed over to the throne. And then probably the best part:


"You. Try. My. Patience."


Said in a voice so low it sounded like it came from the bowels of hell. Only for that same voice to tremble and ultimately break with emotion as he cried, "Make… your… CHOICE!" -- turning away from her and wrapping his arms around himself. The sight was one of a man begging for the woman he loves to release him from the pain in his heart. Perhaps not really caring who she chooses, as long as this agony of being suspended between hope and despair be ended.


The kiss was good, and I made a conscious choice to look up and see Andrew's reaction. I was not disappointed. He was crying, turning away for a sight that he couldn't bear to watch as Kristi initiated the second, more tender kiss; her hand touching the Phantom's scarred cheek. I don't see many Christines touch the disfigurement, but I like the intimacy of that contact.


Once the kiss was broken, Michael looked shocked and confused. And as he slowly crossed the stage, you could see him trying to process what had just happened. And when he finally released Raoul from the cage, he did so with a wave of his arm and a pained/angry cry as if was the last thing he wanted to do but knew that he must.


Once freed, Andrew and Kristi stood there for quite awhile, forcing Michael to scare them in order to make them leave. But while that's pretty standard, I'd never seen a Phantom's anger give way so quickly to despair. Nor have I ever seen a Phantom fall to the stage on his side like Michael did (guess that's one was to ensure against the infamous trouser tear!). As a result, he looked even more vulnerable as he had to roll over and crawl on his hands and knees to the monkey. And when Kristi returned… when Michael looked up in surprise, stood, straightened his clothes and dusted himself off all while a child-like, hopeful smile graced across his lips, only to have her offer his ring back; I got a little choked up (but in a manly way, of course). That was the clincher. He'd cemented his place in the upper echelons of my favorite Phantoms of all time.


Curtain Call: Not a very enthusiastic audience. The applause nearly died down completely before the curtain came up and the ballet chorus stepped forward to take their bows. And I kind of got the feeling I was the only one standing until Kristi and Michael took their individual bows. Fabulous show; sucky audience. I'm gonna have to start going to 7pm shows on these two-show nights.


Post-Show: I need myself a staff photographer 'cuz I tend to be so involved in the moment that I always forget to take pictures. Anyway, there was backstage chatting, there was autograph-getting, there was a bite to eat, and there were stories aplenty. Unfortunately, I can't tell you any of those, 'cuz what happens in Vegas…