Front Tagline: He's out to stop the show... for good!
Back Tagline: Lights...Curtain...Phantom?
Official Book Description:
Brooke's best friend, Zeke, has been given the lead role in the school play,the Phantom. Zeke's totally into it. He loves dressing up in the grotesque phantom costume. And scaring the other members of the cast. Brooke thinks Zeke's getting a little too into it.
But then really scary things start happening. A message appears on a piece of scenery: "The Phantom Strikes!" A stage light comes crashing down.
Is someone trying to ruin the play?
Or is there really a phantom living under the stage?
The book starts with a little foreshadowing. It's pretty subtle, but essentially the narrator, Brooke Rodgers and her improbably-named friend Zeke are going to discover a phantom who has been haunting their school for over seventy years. We figure this out when Brooke tells us the preceding, verbatim. Great, now I don't even have to read the rest of the book!
Brooke and Zeke are aspiring thespians, having appeared in last year's elementary school production of Guys and Dolls. A lot of fifth grade classes put on a production of Guys and Dolls, that's what makes this believable. When Brooke and Zeke go to look at the cast list for the new, "scary" play the sixth grade class is putting on, Brooke discovers a note pinned to the board telling her that she has been suspended. Brooke believes this because she is unbelievably stupid. Zeke reveals he's equally stupid by taking pride in having set up the "joke." Hey RL Stine, can anyone but these two be the main characters of this book?
Zeke gets the title role as the Phantom and Brooke will be playing Esmerelda. A 7th grader named Tina who doesn't much like Brooke finds out she's Brooke's understudy and also is in charge of scenery. At the script reading the next week, Tina reveals that the play is cursed and also that the school puts it on every year. Maybe the school is being cursed by having to put on the same play, not the other way around. Tina starts to tell about how there is an actual phantom (Hey remember the foreshadowing!!!!!) in the school, but she is interrupted by Ms. Walker, the teacher directing the play, who tells her that the story is "Very scary... very upsetting." Ms. Walker might as well have lit firecrackers and handed out candy and puppywhips for as much interest as she generated by saying that, but she refuses to entertain the class with the story. But then she gives in to peer pressure and does reveal the tale to the class. Not particularly effective authoritativeness there, Ms. Walker.
72 awfully specific years ago, when the middle school was first built, a student found a copy of a play called the Phantom in the basement that someone had left. I don't want to be one of those internet people who points out mistakes, but why would anyone think this made sense if the school had just been built? Who left it, thespian contractors? The boy shows the play to a teacher who decides the school will perform it and then on opening night, the boy disappears, never to be found again. After that night, all copies of the script were destroyed except one, which was kept locked in a safe because burglars are going to be after a kid's play, and the play was never performed again... UNTIL NOW. It's really too bad they couldn't have destroyed the Cuban Swimmer or any number of other plays instead.
Ms. Walker tells the class that they'll be ignoring the rumour that the Phantom won't let them perform the play and then she accidentally falls down a trap door below the stage. She has the kids help her up and then excitedly tells them that they'll be using the trap door in the stage during their play. That's like driving and getting into a car accident and then turning to the person next to you and going "Your turn to drive!"
Brooke gives us a brief synopsis of the play (actually brief, not like thisbrief):
Carlos owns a theatre. Beneath the theatre lives a phantom with a scarred face. (This sounds familiar... what does it sound like...hmm) Esmerelda, the daughter of Carlos, falls in love with the Phantom, but then her boyfriend Eric finds out and he kills the Phantom. Esmerelda runs away and the Phantom haunts the theatre forever. I have a suggestion: Keep this play locked up longer.
After everyone leaves rehearsals, Zeke and Brooke stick around to try out the trap door in secret. Brooke has a brief asthma attack because trying out a trap door is just that exciting. They go down in the trap door but they keep going down and eventually they're "a mile" beneath the school, which doesn't sound believable to me but sometimes I forget who wrote what I'm reading. They're in a vast, dark corridor and this is interesting to them for reasons not explained to the reader. Kids love dark corridors, I guess. Suddenly the platform begins to move up again and the two jump onto it as it goes back up. The platform stops a little short of the stage so the two have to hoist themselves up. Once on the stage, they run into Emile, the night janitor, an old man with a big purple scar on his face. The janitor chides them on using the trap door and kicks them out of the school.
Later that night, Brooke and Zeke overreact about the old janitor's warning, ascribing him evil tendencies when he pretty much just seemed like a guy who didn't want kids hurting themselves. That monster! Zeke thinks that Emile the janitor is really the Phantom! (Is this really going to be the story, a janitor who may or may not be a former child actor? Jesus, there's still eighty more pages left.)
The next day at school, there's a new boy sitting in her chair in Ms. Walker's class. His name is Brian and he's probably a ghost or something, right. He claims he just moved her from Indiana. Ghostiana he means. He compliments Brooke on starring in the play. Compliments her in a ghostly fashion. Brooke runs out to her locker after talking to Brian (the ghost) and inside her locker there is a note written in red crayon, warning her to stay away from the writer's Home Sweet Home. Oh no, Brooke appears to have upset a greeting card writer! Brooke thinks Zeke did it. Zeke denies it.
After school, Brian asks Ms. Walker if there's any parts left in the play. She tells him no and so he goes to work for Tina on the scenery crew. Suddenly, the lights go out! And there's a terrifying scream in the auditorium! A masked man-- The Phantom!-- Comes swooping down from the catwalk and disappears down the trap door. Brooke is certain it's really Zeke, and not "the Phantom." The rest of the cast and crew gets mad at Brooke for what Zeke did, and then the platform comes back up from the basement empty. Ms. Walker lets rehearsals out early and Brooke goes out to the parking lot, where she sees Zeke in his mom's car. He had a doctor's appointment, he couldn't have been the Phantom. I wonder who the Phantom coulBrian.
The next day at play rehearsal, the Phantom appears again from the platform and nearly shakes Brooke to death. And since Zeke is watching from the front row, it's probably not him, but let's not jump to conclusions. Later, Zeke goes to the school office and asks if maybe Emile the night janitor has turned in a book he lost. The girl in the office informs him that the school doesn't have a night janitor!
Brooke and Zeke talk Brian into helping them catch the Phantom in the school. They break into the school one late evening. Zeke makes some cautious social commentary on the school not being able to afford alarms that really hits home a call for Marxist reforms in our education. TrulyPhantom of the Auditorium is RL Stine's the Jungle.
They creep around in the abandoned, dark school, coming upon the auditorium. On the big brick backdrop, someone has painted the same "Stay Away From My Home Sweet Home" message in red paint. Then, in a moment of spectacular convenience, Ms. Walker enters the auditorium and catches the three of them and accuses them of creating the vandalism. Ms. Walker starts to sort of believe that they had nothing to do with it, but then she notices a trail of red paint leading to Zeke's locker. Ms. Walker kicks Zeke out of the play. On the way home, Brooke runs into Tina, who is riding her bicycle away from the school. Dunh Dunh Dunh.
Zeke gets replaced with some kid named Robert Hernandez. At practice, Ms. Walker shows yet again that she's not a particularly good teacher when she cancels the play after someone glues her script together. She also shows she has no reliability by calming down and allowing the play to continue. This is all even less interesting when you read it in the book.
Brian and Brooke go to Zeke's house to visit. Zeke's dog barks at Brian. Jesus Christ, really, we had this exact same plot point not two books ago in Ghost Beach, how little does Stine think kids retain?
Zeke is outraged at what a bad job Robert is doing in his role. He vows to try one last time to catch the Phantom. The three kids go back to the school at night again, and find their way back down the tunnel. Then the trapdoor rises by itself and traps (oh irony) them beneath the school in the tunnel. They investigate and stumble across a small, furnished room. There's even a fresh bowl of corn flakes on a table, and they flakes aren't soggy yet so the Phantom must be near! The Corn Flakes aren't soggy yet, so the Phantom must be near. I still can't believe that sentence needed to be written by me. Amazing.
The kids somehow get locked in the room. Then, and this is astonishing, and I want you all to brace yourself for this: After pushing really hard on the door for several minutes, they realize the door opens in, not out. What.
The door opens easily and standing in front of them is Emile. Turns out he's just a poor homeless guy who has been living below. He painted the warnings but doesn't understand why they keep referring to a phantom. Of course not, because Brian is the ghost phantom kid whatever. Emile gets really sad and it's like that Phil Collins video about the homeless people, except Zeke and his pals are like the anti-Collins and they run away from the homeless guy. Then they snitch on him to their parents, who call the police to investigate. Oh and the reason they tell Zeke's dad about it is because Zeke's dad just magically appears in the tunnel to save them from the sad old man. Phantom of the Plot Convenience.
Zeke gets his part back in the play. The kids are all preparing to go on stage on opening night. Halfway through the first act, when the Phantom makes his dramatic appearance, Brooke figures out it isn't Zeke. It's the real Phantom. He gives a "moving" speech about how he died on opening night and had been haunting the school, waiting for his chance to play the role. Dude, you should have waited for a better play. After the curtain closes, the Phantom skitters away and Zeke shows up, complaining that someone hit him over the head.
After the show wraps, the students look through old yearbooks for some reason. Maybe it's a theatre thing. They come across the very first yearbook in the school's history and
But the Twist is:
...The boy in the yearbook is Brian. OMG LIKE NO WAY.
the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Brooke Rodgers and Zeke Matthews, best friends who disappear down a trap door 1/3 of the way through the novel.
When Brooke and Zeke try to tell Ms. Walker about the older man who has been hanging around inside the auditorium, she simply apologizes for having told a spooky tale to them.
R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
Brooke talks about watching Friday the 13th. That movie's Rated R, Stine. No wonder parent groups wanted you banned, you sick fuck.
Once again, whenever there's a minority character, he's given negative attributes. Robert Hernandez, Zeke's stand in, is described as someone who doesn't understand jokes (foreign) and not a lot of fun to be around. I think we've all been around enough construction sites to know that Stine can't even get his cultural stereotyping right.
Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ms. Walker is canceling the play... Nah, nevermind kids.
Great Prose Alert:
My arms and legs felt as if they were made of chewing gum.
Phantom of the Auditorium was marginally more entertaining than my high school's production of Auntie Mame.
Goosebumps: Phantom of the Auditorium (Book Review)
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Front Tagline: He's out to stop the show... for good!