I finally watched The Phantom of the Opera for the first time in my life, after having recited all of the musical’s classic songs since I was young. Andrew Lloyd Webber is doing the amazing thing of presenting his musicals on YouTube, releasing one each Friday and making it available over the weekend to viewers around the globe.

Nothing can beat the experience of watching music being performed live, the energy of the audience buzzing around you – but alas, in times of Covid-19, we’ve had to adjust a few of our standards, now haven’t we? And so, there I was watching The Phantom of the Opera on my couch, still very much enthralled by the stunning performances by Ramin Karimloo (the Phantom) and Sierra Borgess (Christine), when I was suddenly hit by the realization of what The Phantom is actually about:

Facing our shadow self.

At first, I found myself growing upset while the Phantom marched around the stage, Christine’s wrist clutched in his fist. Back and forth he paced, Christine lurching from left to right, me getting stressed out on the couch. People say I take shows way too seriously. Yes, the empath in me wanted to lob a cushion at the Phantom’s head and tell him to quit dragging her around. She’s clearly vulnerable, dude, and you’re abusing your position of power.

But then I saw it. The Phantom isn’t really a man imposing himself on Christine. The Phantom is Christine, and she is actually fighting herself. #mindblasted

(Now, in case anyone is actually taking me literally, I am not saying that if a guy is being manipulative and abusive towards a woman, she should look at him as a metaphor for how she can work on her inner self. I seriously hope no one would warp this article into that kinda bullshit. Also, the musical is based on the novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, and I’m also not saying that my interpretation is what his story was about. I mean, he actually believed there was an Opera Ghost haunting the Palais Garnier opera house, upon which his book is based. But I digress …)

So, the Phantom is our shadow self. That disowned part of us that we want to hurl down the basement stairs and lock away forever. That side of ourselves that seems too gruesome and dysfunctional to come face to face with, unmasked.

But as the Phantom sings in “The Music of the Night,” giving herself over to the darkness, in which each sensation is heightened and one’s fantasies can be realized, is what will give Christine the power to move audiences with her performances. In fact, Christine has had success on the stage because she gives herself up to the Phantom’s spell, which really just means that she’s tapped into the deepest, most authentic part of herself and channeled that to her adoring fans.

But the Phantom’s not done with her just yet. Christine has much more to learn; she’s only begun the work to uncover her genius.

Darkness, night time, one’s darkest dreams – these all represent the most raw, real, and exquisite parts of a person. For the Phantom, the daylight is what’s garish, cold, and unfeeling. In this sense, we can relate the daylight with what’s most readily seen when people observe us, and when we observe them: that external show of all that is acceptable in society, the Instagram facade of a perfect life.

Masquerade! Paper faces on parade
Masquerade! Hide your face so the world will never find you
Masquerade! Every face a different shade
Masquerade! Look around, there’s another mask behind you

“Masquerade” (Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Phantom of the Opera)

In other words, the uninspired, and therefore uninspiring, version of us.

Which performers truly move us when we watch them in their element? It’s those who give us permission to feel something deeply truthful in ourselves by exposing their vulnerability and sharing their own truth through their art.

Which people in life do we admire and find ourselves idolizing, as though their way of thinking and living is sorely out of reach for us? Those who live their lives with profound authenticity and alignment with with their core values are surely on our list. Sad to say, those people seem to be anomalies in this world, revered for doing what many of us cannot: going against the naysayers, the status quo, and even their own inner demons, to follow their ultimate truth.

What kind of life could we create for ourselves if we could do the same?

Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams
Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before
Close your eyes, let your spirit start to soar
And you’ll live as you’ve never lived before

“The Music of the Night” (Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Phantom of the Opera)

But this is all easier said than done. Because there’s always a handsome, shiny Raoul rushing into the scene to save us from our discomfort with the truth. And understandably, Christine wants to escape into the protective arms of her knight in shining armour because he sure seems safe in contrast to creepy ol’ Phantom.

Raoul begs her for “no more talk of darkness, forget these wide-eyed fears.” He’s convinced that as long as she speaks of summertime and frolics within the shelter of daylight, she’ll never have to deal with her fears again. (Hmm, do we sense a wee bit of spiritual bypassing going on here?)

But given that “the Phantom of the Opera is there, inside your mind,” Christine should know that she could flee to the other side of the world, dear Raoul bravely holding up his shield, and there the Phantom would be, peeking his head out from behind some random tree, curling his finger at Christine, beckoning, “Come to me, Angel of Music.”

Until Christine makes peace with the Phantom, she can never be fully free to bask in the daylight.

Start a new life with me
Buy his freedom with your love!
Refuse me, and you send your lover to his death!
This is the choice
This is the point of no return!

“Down Once More/Track Down This Murderer” (Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Phantom of the Opera)

But of course, Christine keeps on running. The Phantom doesn’t exactly make it easy for her – he’s pretty bad at communicating his feelings. When Raoul adds salt to the wound and attempts to defy the Phantom’s place in Christine’s world, the Phantom becomes enraged. He is a part of her, she is a part of him. How dare this insolent boy try to keep them separated?

Bottom line, it never goes well when Christine tries to reject her Phantom. In the same way, when we attempt to stuff our own Phantom into the attic chest or run away from it in a horrified panic, that deep part of ourselves – what some of us may know as our inner child – feels abandoned, unloved, made to feel unworthy, as it has been made to feel time and time again.

Down once more to the dungeon of my black despair!
… Why, you ask, was I bound and chained in this cold and dismal place?
… This face, the infection which poisons our love
This face, which earned a mother’s fear and loathing

Excerpts from “Down Once More/Track Down This Murderer” (Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Phantom of the Opera)

When that sense of abandonment or unworthiness that was likely cultivated when we were children is now triggered in the present, as adults, it can then express itself as anger, depression, withdrawal, lashing out, among other understandable but unhelpful responses. The Phantom is really just a little child who was never loved. He teeters between putting up all kinds of defense mechanisms to shun himself before he can be shunned once more by others, and desperately reaching out for love albeit in a most stalkerish and unfruitful way.

When Christine locks lips with the Phantom near the end of the musical, his eyes widen with shock and incredulity. How can this be? He’s been nothing but shamed and rejected his whole life. But when he realizes that Christine is still Frenching his disfigured lips a few long seconds later, he succumbs to the love he’s been yearning for. Raoul, tied up to the noose the Phantom had slipped around his neck, watches aghast; but it is this act by Christine that finally releases the Phantom from his own chains and allows him to set Raoul free in turn.

In the next-to-final scene, when Christine returns to the Phantom – who is writhing on the ground in his lair, recovering from all that’s just transpired – she makes her final gesture of peace with him, her shadow self, and is able to walk away with Raoul to a brighter world filled with happy song.

Pitiful creature of darkness
What kind of life have you known?
God give me courage to show you you are not alone

“Down Once More/Track Down This Murderer” (Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Phantom of the Opera)

But Christine will always continue carrying the Phantom with her, regardless of whichever fancy new place Raoul whisks her off to. Remember, the Phantom is her. And quite frankly, making peace with our shadow selves is a life-long journey. (By the way, the sequel to The Phantom, called Love Never Dies, is the next release by Andrew Lloyd Webber this Friday, April 24 on YouTube. And you can bet the Phantom is back, peeping his head from behind the tree to see what Christine’s up to. Oh, Phantom.)

But there is still a happy outcome. The Phantom sings that not only can you not fight the darkness, but this strange new world is actually the place “where you long to be.” Indeed, how many of us have desired to live a more inspired, meaningful life than the one we might find ourselves mindlessly floating through? And how many of us have simply stayed where we are – frozen by the ease of being complacent and the fear of what it takes to live our truth – and felt nothing but miserable?

Going into the darkness is not often an easy path, but it is one that is necessary to achieve the ultimate freedom of being us. “You alone can make my song take flight,” the Phantom tells Christine. Similarly, we alone can enable our inner selves to soar to the heights we are capable of but often restrict ourselves from reaching. We must be the ones to let our souls take us to where we aspire to be. (Although, therapy often helps, but you know what I’m saying.)

So are you ready to face your shadow self? If so, you can do as Christine did and take that gentle first step of removing the mask from your own Phantom (well, she kinda forcibly wrenched it off of him, but we can be a little more gentle with ourselves). Then give it a big, loving embrace, letting our inner child know that we are right there with them.

Maybe at first, your Phantom will get pissed off and chase you around in an attempt to seize its mask back – after all, that’s how it’s learned to feel safest, by hiding. But when it realizes that instead of rejecting all that seems hideous about it, you won’t leave it abandoned once more, it can finally begin to feel some peace and acceptance, it can stop wreaking havoc on your relationship with Raoul and whatever that symbolizes for you. Remember, showing our inner child the love it never fully received is all it really wants at the end of the day.

Through beginning the journey to face my own shadow self, I can attest that seeing in the dark is an immense gift. I can tell you that it’s also not just darkness – in fact, there is so much light awaiting you on that path. Once you get a taste of what your authentic life feels like, you won’t ever look back. Even if you know that you’ve now entered the realm where you’ll continuously have to stare your Phantom in its creepy eye, you will never regret passing the point of no return.

And really, there is no returning once you’ve crossed over into that strange, but beautiful, new world.

Abandon thought and let the dream descend
What raging fire shall flood the soul?
What rich desire unlocks its door?
What sweet seduction lies before us
Past the point of no return

“The Point of No Return” (Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Phantom of the Opera)

– Janice Ho

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