New Jersey Stage

Thursday, October 13, 2011

East Lynne Theater Company presents an "The Phantom of the Opera"

(CAPE MAY, NJ) -- In 1908, Gaston Leroux wrote about a disfigured man who terrorizes the Paris Opera House and falls in love with the young leading lady.  This Parisian native was already known for his cutting-edge horror stories, but if he were alive today, he would probably be amazed at all of the various adaptations of his "Phantom of the Opera." The story has been made into six films, and two musicals: one by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the other by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston.  Leroux was impressed by the first film version, produced by Carl Laemmle, the head of Universal Pictures, in 1925, but didn't live long enough to see any other incarnations.

     For one night only, Friday, October 28 at 8:00p.m., East Lynne Theater Company, in partnership with The Cape May Film Festival, presents this original "Phantom of the Opera," with live organ accompaniment provided by Wayne Zimmerman.  The location is The First Presbyterian Church of Cape May, 500 Hughes St., where ELTC is in residence. Tickets are only $15, and for reservations and information, contact ELTC at 609-884-5898 or online at       

     The 1925 film stars Lon Chaney in the title role, with Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe, and Gibson Gowland. Well-known reviewer Roger Ebert states that "Phantom" has "two elements of genius: It creates beneath the opera one of the most grotesque places in the cinema, and Chaney's performance transforms an absurd character into a haunting one."  

     This "Phantom of the Opera," a silent film, opened two years before "The Jazz Singer," in which Al Jolson spoke and sang on screen.  But this doesn't mean that there was absolute silence when "silent" films were shown. They were accompanied by an organ, piano, and sometimes a full orchestra: the beginnings of film scoring as we know it.  From Charlie Chaplin, who scored his own films, to John Williams and Randy Newman of today, the power of music accompanying a silent or a talking film cannot be undervalued.  Experienced composers know that music enhances the action and emotion, but never overshadows it.

     Providing the musical accompaniment for "Phantom" is Wayne Zimmerman, who has played in a variety of venues from coast-to-coast and in Hawaii, regaling audiences with his silent-film accompaniment and concerts.  At varying times he's served as organist at the Lansdowne Theatre in Lansdowne, PA, the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, PA, the Brookline Theatre in Havertown, PA, and the Merlin Theatre in suburban Philadelphia. Currently he is president of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society, and accompanist for silent films at the Loew's Jersey Theatre in Jersey City.

     Meanwhile, there is only week left to see the Kaufman and Connelly screwball comedy, "Dulcy."  On Wednesday, Oct. 12, the playwright's daughter, Anne Kaufman, will be seeing "Dulcy" for the first time and will be part of an after-show Q&A with the audience.  On Friday, there is a special American Sign Language Interpretation.

     Part of the fun of "Dulcy," is a section in the second act where a scriptwriter describes a film as a musician accompanies him on the piano. The described film is a direct spoof of what many consider to be the finest silent film ever made: D. W. Griffith's "Intolerance" (1916). When "Dulcy" was written and first produced (1921), the only films were silent, with some of the dialogue written out on storyboards.