Combining clinical research in psychiatry with pop culture can be a useful tool in teaching. Since 2009, Dr. Anthony Tobia has been doing just that by using the well-known musical Phantom of the Opera as a teaching tool in his classes taught at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical school, located in New Jersey.
Tobia serves as associate professor and director of the psychiatry core clerkship for third-year med students. He finds the Phantom of the Opera character Christine Daaé fascinating, and has felt that way since first seeing the Phantom of the Opera in 1995. Tobia believes that the musical is an ideal tool for examining mood disorders. He says that Christine’s character is dealing with difficult grieving issues after the death of her father when she was a teenager, and she also has the added stress of being a stand-out performer. He said in an interview with Rutgers Today that it allowed his class to discuss what is known in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as persistent complex bereavement disorder. The disorder could eventually evolve into clinical depression, sucidality, and psychosis.
Looking at the show from a clinical standpoint, Tobia believes that Christine eventually takes her own life after the story concludes. He says that there were clues throughout the show that lead him to believe this. Andrew Lloyd Webber, the creator of the musical, hasn’t given any comment on this theory.
Actress Julia Udine, who played Christine in the North American tour before assuming the role on Broadway from December 2014 to June 2015, did a recent collaboration with Tobia on a “Grand Rounds showcase,” sponsored by the Department of Psychiatry at Rutgers University and the Stuart D. Cook MD Master Educators’ Guild.
The actress sang some of the songs featured in the musical as Christine, while Tobia made clinical commentary on the lyrics. After the showcase, Udine said that she found the experience very enlightening. She even said she would use some of Tobia’s commentary to prepare herself should she ever play Christine again.
Though Tobia takes a thorough look at the character of Christine, his examination doesn’t profile the Phantom himself. Perhaps he will include the Phantom in a future course.