Here’s the thing: I know the work of Vox Lumiere, Kevin Saunders Hayes’ fusion performance company that attaches singers and dancers to projections of old silent films with his musical compositions applied as the Super Glue joining them. I was there for his L.A. premiere some 10 plus years ago. I was present a number of years past when one of his shows heralded the opening of the Hollywood and Highland Center where huge elephants from D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance are incorporated in its décor.
What I’m trying to say is I have opinions of the work of Vox Lumiere…and not favorable opinions.
So, when my lovely wife Marlene, who handles my calendar, excitedly informed me we were seeing “a live musical set against a silent film backdrop” she immediately recognized the face I made. It’s the face that says, “You don’t have to shove the bamboo under my fingernails; I’ll tell you where the treasure is buried.” But I know artists can improve. I’ve seen mediocre playwrights evolve to pen beautiful plays, and subpar actors grow to give great performances.
So, with Marlene’s help who had her foot planted firmly against the door, I kept an open mind as we entered the Los Angeles Theatre Center for Vox Lumiere’s “Phantom of the Opera”, music, lyrics and direction by Kevin Saunders Hayes.
My feelings are expressed best in scripture: Hebrews 13:8 (KJV)
That Hayes has a remarkable eye for talent was apparent to me all those years back, and that eye has not clouded over. The singers and dancers he fills his production with are top quality. Hayes himself also seems to know all the bells and whistles that go into making a show – the only fault being there is nothing really worth the seeing.
Hayes, who composes for film and TV, clearly has some shekels to spend and he isn’t stingy about shelling them out. The costumes by Sharell Martin are exceptional expressions of steampunk chic. Kristy Staky’s hair, wig and make up designs are noteworthy enough to be mentioned in this review, and ask any makeup artist how often that happens. William Kirkham’s lighting is striking and video consultant Jason Thompson achieves some wonderful moments.
The cast give their all and then some, and the evening has more that its share of standout performances; Danielle Skalsky as The Grand Dame, D. Valentine as Raoul, Chris Marcos as Faust and James Lynch as the Phantom overwhelm you with their talents. The only thing that isn’t overwhelming is the show, and for that the fault falls like a cartoon 16 ton anvil fully and quite justifiably onto Hayes.
Not to say Hayes isn’t talented; he is. But the curse of being talented, and the vane of all creative souls, is the awareness of where that talent ends and realizing one’s own limitation. After all these years it seems Hayes is still struggling with that.
As a director he fails in clarifying the intent of his production. There is no effort at fusing the singers and dancers with the silent film constantly running behind them. Lon Chaney’s 1925 horror masterpiece is treated no better than a backdrop, however, backdrops don’t move.
It is a director’s job to guide the eyes of the audience to exactly what he wants them to see. (In Directing 101 this is called “throwing interest”.) Lacking that, there is confusion galore over what we should be watching, which leads to frustration over what we’re missing. This lack of direction hampers the fact that certain singers are assigned to certain “roles” in the film. Hayes makes no attempt to establish that linkage, and the presentation suffers for it.
Hayes’ composition for the show has moments of grandeur, but these are only moments in an evening that has little in it that is grand and the score for the most part is overblown and repetitious. In the past, the main stumbling block with Hayes’ compositions has been his lyrics which tend to be uninspired and blatant. That was not a problem this time because the acoustics were so muddy that I couldn’t hear the lyrics, neither could Marlene and neither could a few other folks I heard complaining in the lobby after the show. Who knows, judging from the scant lyrics I was able to pick out (“I just want to see your body”) maybe this was a blessing.
In the final assessment, Hayes’ direction and composition doesn’t compliment, clarify, counterpoint or challenge any aspect of “The Phantom of the Opera”. The combination illuminates nothing and clutters everything. He could just as easily have had The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? play behind the performance. Sans sound of course.
Besides the opportunity of seeing a magnificent failure (always an excellent learning experience), and despite all that I’ve said here, there are reasons one might subject themselves to this evening which could be sub-titled “Adventures in the Artist’s Ego”.
As already mentioned, the singers and dancers can not be faulted, and it is to Hayes’ credit that he recognizes such talent. But what one leaves singing the praises of is the choreography by Natalie Willes, which is dynamic beyond measure. It was the only element of the evening which fought, forlorn hope that it was, at bestowing cohesion on the overall production.
Vox Lumiere – The Phantom of the Opera
Los Angeles Theatre Center
514 S Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Friday, Sept. 19 at 8 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 20 at 8 p.m.