Phantom’s legacy will happily haunt the Vegas scene

anthony-crivello-phantom-credit-joan-marcus.jpgWho was that partially masked man?

On Sept. 2, Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular will steal away into our neon night, taking its plummeting chandelier with it. Even a scarred antihero falls prey to a scarred economy. Attempting to re-rev up audience interest for its swan-song performances, the epic, tailored-for Vegas musical staged a sixth-anniversary show last week, complete with a curtain-call speech—suggesting we all drop by “one more time”—by Phanty (Anthony Crivello) himself.

Let’s talk legacy. Does Vegas Phantom leave one that lasts? Unquestionably. Debates over Vegas as “Broadway West” always treated us as a potential branch of the Broadway tree. Phantom gave us our own (palm) tree.

Several other New York imports buckled to casino demands to trim down to a 90-minute clock, while others hewed to their New York origins, intermissions included. Creatively, though, none gave themselves over wholeheartedly to Vegas.

Only Phantom both capitulated and capitalized on the Vegas aesthetic, concocting a model that respected our unique style while playing off its Great White Way cachet. Simultaneously, it slimmed down the running time while ratcheting up its entertaining bombast with new technology, effects and a custom-designed theater, making it nearly Cirque-worthy but for the absence of acrobats.

Even reworking the story so the spectacular chandelier crash occurs near the show’s end rather than mid-story acknowledges that Vegas impulse toward a climactic adrenaline rush rather than rigid adherence to the narrative (though the rejiggered sequencing still works).

Result: Phantom isn’t Broadway slumming in Vegas. It is Vegas.

Generalizing though this is, Broadway considers itself art (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark notwithstanding) while Vegas (the artistry of Cirque du Soleil notwithstanding) embraces entertainment. There’s little need to slavishly ape Broadway when it’s likely (and this isn’t meant condescendingly) most tourists never watched a minute of the Tony Awards and equate Broadway with elitism and Vegas with, well, Vegas baby!

While other productions such as Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia! are transferrable largely intact because they fit our good-time-Charlie mode, the gothic, operatic Phantom set a precedent by reinventing itself, emphasizing this Broadway/Vegas truth: We don’t need to be them. We can just use them to become a bigger, better us.

NOSH ON NOTES: Under the Vegas summer sun, 98 degrees is relatively cool. Can the same be said of 98 Degrees’ Jeff Timmons? Might be worth a look and listen as the ex-boy band member has debuted Wired—featuring Timmons performing with a live band, rotating musical acts and “surprise celebrity guests”—every Friday and Saturday night at 11 at Green Valley Ranch’s Ovation room. … Sending out a fond RIP to Don Grady, who portrayed the oldest of My Three Sons and died June 27. Concentrating on music after the beloved sitcom ended, Grady was co-composer of the original music in EFX.

STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Pardon the grumpy-Gus vibe, but Phantom almost had this columnist singing out in joy—because it didn’t ask anyone to sing out. After bouncing between interactive shows—being hand-fed by an actress in Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, getting spritzed by fake blood at Evil Dead and trying to hide from the masked mime-dancers yanking patrons onstage in JabbaWockeeZPhantom was a fabulous relief. Sadly, they did miss out on yours truly’s yodeling skills.

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COOL SCHOOL: The 2003 Jack Black film School of Rock was based on a school operated by Paul Green. The story goes that VH1 crews visited Green’s School of Rock Music in Philadelphia and filmed there; three years later, VH1’s parent company Viacom made an intermittently funny movie about a guy who teaches Led Zeppelin songs to kids. Now, the School of Rock is a real-life institution that delivers more true entertainment in one night than Jack Black’s last five movies combined.



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