Ben Forster's "Phantom": A New Look At An Infamous Character

Ben Forster's "Phantom": A New Look At An Infamous Character

A review of the West End's newest Phantom

After spending months surrounded by the churches and biblical art of Rome, I was starting to feel more and more curious about what exactly was in the New Testament. Being the musical theater fan that I am, I turned to "Jesus Christ Superstar" (JCS), an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical I had managed to go without seeing, up until then. I watched a modernized version that had been filmed while on tour a few years earlier, and found myself completely entranced by it. The lighting, costumes and staging were endlessly creative and new, but what really caught my attention was the performance by the leading actors. Ben Forster, who won the role of Jesus after performing on the show, "Superstar," was captivating. Not just in his singing, but in the way he put so much emotion and intensity into the role. His interpretation just radiated sadness and anger.

This was only a week before my trip to London, during which I would be seeing "Phantom of the Opera," a show I had been dying to see for the past 12 years. Imagine my surprise when I looked up the current cast and found that I would be seeing Ben Forster as the Phantom, just days after I'd discovered him. Reviews of his performance weren't entirely positive, complaining that his voice didn't have the strength to play the Phantom. I would agree that his voice isn't as heavy as the Phantom's normally is, but once I heard his opening soft and quiet "Brava" echo through the theater before he calls Christine's name, I could tell that that voice was going to become an advantage. Rather than that robust quality the Phantom's voice normally has, Forster's Phantom was unbelievably quiet and soft from the beginning, with this almost sickeningly sweet tinge to it on certain notes. In his more intense moments, all of this sweetness spiked not into a roar, like other Phantom's tend to favor, as much as a wavering and broken anger. This became especially unsettling when combined with Forster's character interpretation. Everything from his facial expressions to the slow, fluid way he moved across the stage in Act I, especially around Christine, seemed like a predator examining his prey.

One moment that stands out in particular is the way Forster's head tilts and his slow stalking in "Music of the Night" became noticeably snake-like, despite the sweetness of the song. His movements were some of my favorite elements of his interpretation. He emphasized the way the Phantom seems to force and pull the final notes of the title song from her throat, clenching his fist and pulling toward his chest as Christine reached higher and her chest heaved forward. Rather than just moving his hands as Christine sings her part in "Point of No Return," he actually starts to conduct in his lap, bringing everything back to the fact that he is Christine's teacher and that this is his opera.

These acting choices are especially important because since his voice is missing that robust quality and it is combined with the fact that he is about the same height as Celinde Shoenmaker's Christine, his character can be a bit hard to seem fearsome. This became most apparent in the "Point of No Return" reprise, when the Phantom needs to have a strong and menacing presence to combat Christine's howling anger, something Forster doesn't exactly have and his slow and unnerving treatment of the Phantom up until that point can't really save. He makes up for it in the emotion he brings to the whole Final Lair scene, though, and throughout the musical. Every feeling is heightened and intensified. His softness with Christine in the beginning is in every movement, from the way he guides her into the Lair during the title song to the way he removes her hand from his mask in "Music of the Night." He is slow and quiet and hypnotic, so much so that the audience is on edge throughout "Music of the Night," the song that normally makes them fall for the Phantom in the same moment Christine does. His high and soft voice lends itself to the sadness of the role, especially throughout the "All I Ask of You" and "Masquerade" reprises, and remains behind every moment of loud and sudden anger.

What some may think Ben Forster lacks actually allows him to explore different elements of the character, allowing him to bring something very different to "Phantom of the Opera." If you're looking for a show to see on the West End while he's still in the role, don't let poor reviews or even disliking him in "JCS" discourage you. You'll be seeing a version of "Phantom" you can't find elsewhere.

Cover Image Credit: Olivier Awards

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Dear Shondaland, You Made A Mistake Because April Kepner Deserves Better

"April Kepner... you're not average"

I'll admit from the first time we were introduced to April in Season 6, I didn't like her so much. I mean we hated the "Mercy Westers" in the first place, so how could we see the potential in the annoying, know-it-all resident that was trying to compete with our beloved Lexie Grey.

But then, we saw her come face-to-face with a killer and thought maybe she had potential.

We then saw her surprise everyone when she proved to be the next trauma surgeon in the making and we were intrigued.

Notice how none of these stories had anything to do with Jackson Avery. Not that we didn't love her with Jackson, but for whatever reason you've chosen to end their very popular relationship. Suddenly, you think that April is not worth further exploration but you've forgotten one simple thing. We fell in love with her before "Japril" was ever in the picture.

We love her because her story was unlike the others and she had one of the best character developments on the show. She wasn't damaged like Meredith Grey or Alex Karev who have been on their journey to become all whole and healed, but she still had to fight hard to be taken seriously. Her story has so much potential for future development, but you've decided to throw it all away for "creative reasons."

I'm sorry, but there's nothing creative about doing the exact same thing you've done to all the other characters who have left the show. We've endured the loss of many beloved characters when you chose to write off George, Henry, Mark, and Lexie. We even took it when you did the unthinkable and wrote McDreamy out of the show - killing off one half of the leading couple. (WHO DOES THAT???)

But April Kepner? Are you kidding me?

She may no longer be with Jackson, but she was so much more than half of Japril. While most of us hate that Jackson and April are over, we probably could have dealt with it if April was still on the show. Now they're done and you think there aren't any more stories to tell about her character. Why? Because she'll just get in the way of Jackson and Maggie?

How could you not see that she was way more than Jackson's love interest?

She's so much more than you imagined her to be. April is the headstrong, talented trauma surgeon no one saw coming. The farmer's daughter started off an ugly duckling who became a soldier because she needed to be one and turned into one big beautiful swan who constantly has to fight for her coworkers and family to see her as such.

She's proven to be a soldier and swan on many occasions. Just take giving birth to her daughter in a storm on a kitchen table during an emergency c-section without any numbing or pain medication as an example. If she wasn't a soldier or a swan before, how could she not be after that?

Yet, you - the ones who created her - still see her as the ugly duckling of a character because she always had to take the backseat to everyone else's story and was never allowed to really be seen.

But we see her.

She's the youngest of her sisters who still think of her as the embarrassing little Ducky no matter how much she's grown.

This swan of a resident got fired for one mistake but came back fighting to prove she belongs. Not only did April Kepner belong there, but it was her talent, her kindness, her strength that made her Chief Resident. This simply wasn't enough for Dr. Bailey or her other residents so she fought harder.

She endured the pressure but always ended up being a joke to the others. When she was fired yet again, your girl came back a little shaken. She doubted herself, but how could she not when everyone was against her.

Despite everyone telling her she couldn't, she did rise and no one saw her coming because she remained in the background. She went off to Jordan broken and came back a pretty risky trauma surgeon.

We've watched for years as she was handed promising stories that we never got to see fully develop because she was in the background. We never got to see her rise. We get the beginning and the end, but hardly ever the middle.

I thought we were finally going to have an amazing story arc in season 11 when she loses Samuel, but what did we really get? Two or three episodes of her coming to terms with the loss of her baby and then April's disappearance from the show while she's grieving off screen so that Dr. Amelia Shepherd can shine her first season on the show. Where is April's life-changing surgeries? What does April get? She's background music.

Now what?

It's season 14 and we finally get the story we've been waiting 9 years for! We get Dark April and her crisis of faith. A story arc all Christians can appreciate. Here's the chance for real character development in the foreground, but wait...

Before her story is even wrapped up, you announce that this season will be her last. So we're forced to realize that the only reason we're getting this story now is that you're writing her off.

No matter how you end it, it's not going to do her story justice. If you kill her off to end her crisis of faith story, you're not reaching the many Christians who watch the show. If you have her leaving Seattle and taking Harriet with her, you didn't know April. If you have her leaving Seattle and abandoning Harriet, you really didn't know April. So anyway you choose to end her story, you lost out on one great character.

You messed up.

Both April Kepner and Sarah Drew deserved better.

Cover Image Credit: YouTube

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The 5 Types Of People You're Going To Meet At Every Music Festival

Which one are you?

Ah, Coachella. The time of the year thousands of young adults all collectively travel to the desert to watch an overpriced line-up and camp out of their cars. While I've spent my fair share of time at music festivals in my short life, I've never made the homage trip to Coachella in Southern California. With the festival season rapidly approaching, it's fun to admire the very specific groups of people who pay for these events year by year.

1. The 'Instagram' Girls

I honestly am always jealous of girls like these when I see these pictures. How do they come up with these totally hip, but original outfits? Let me know if you do!

2. The Random High Schoolers

As a young adult, I can guarantee you that there's nothing more terrifying than running into your best friend's high school age sister in the middle of a festival. Mom and dad, as a college student who has been to these events, hold off on these until your child is in college. I couldn't imagine attending before I was an adult.

3. The Frat Boys

If you love sweaty, shirtless meathead guys accidentally bumping into you during every set, find your local circle of fraternity brothers. Keep an eye out for guys in basketball jerseys, frat bro-tanks, and even no shirt at all and you've found the right place.

4. The Random Parents

One of my personal favorites are the adults who randomly seem to love enjoying these festivals as well. Some 50-something parents rocking out to Dillon Francis was the best thing I've seen all year.

5. Rave Culture Squads

Possibly the most frightening are the people who dress up in these ridiculous outfits, dance better than everyone and terrify me with their face masks. Most likely they will be holding up a totem that reads, "If you're lost, come dance with us!"

Whether you feel you belong to any of these groups, are between, or none, music festivals are a great deal of fun for anyone. With that in mind, remember to always be safe, always be with someone, and to not over-do it. All in all, if you're traveling to Coachella, Outside Lands, Lollapalooza, or anything else, have fun and enjoy the music.

Cover Image Credit: EDM Chicago

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