Full disclosure: I have seen Phantom of the Opera on Broadway four times, dating back to my formative theatergoing years during its inaugural season on Broadway in 1988. A decade later, and went twice more over the ensuing years, seeing it at different maturity levels in my life. And I have never really enjoyed it.
You may wonder why I would agree to review Cameron Mackintosh’s re-imagined touring version if my feeling on the musical through the decades hasn’t changed. Truth is, I did so because I wanted to see the production through the eyes of my 10-year-old daughter, Cassidy, a “seasoned” theater vet who has seen about 30 shows in the last two years. I thought that maybe I would have a different experience watching it with her.
In her words: “It was my favorite musical ever.”
My words: “I wish I understood the appeal.”
Truth be told, I feel that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe’s book is a bit boring, some songs are too long and the operatic story within a story is just not my cup of tea. But that doesn’t have anything to do with the performers or production values, of course.
The story brings us to the Paris Opera House, where a facially disfigured man roams in the tunnels below, haunting anyone who doesn’t give him what he wants. And his current desire is for young ingénue Christine to get the lead in his own opera, threatening the new owners of the theatre that if she doesn’t, disaster will strike. The Phantom teaches Christine to become a singing star and believes that she, in turn, will fall in love with him, despite what lurks behind the mask.
A love triangle develops when Raoul sees Christine perform and remembers her fondly as the girl from his childhood for whom he was smitten. Once he makes his feelings known, obviously the Phantom is not pleased which leads to tragedy. One of my deepest problems with the story is that the Phantom has no qualms about killing, yet sacrifices others when he could have just as easily killed Raoul and been done with it.
When the Phantom steps out of the shadows, the show is at its finest. Chris Mann, who wowed audiences on “The Voice,” is spectacular in the title role. His powerful voice on the anthem, “The Music of the Night” is one of my favorite moments of the musical, and his tenderness shines in “All I Ask of You” and “The Point of No Return.”
closes August 20, 2016
Details and tickets
Kaitlyn Davis plays Christine Daae, and has a sweetness to her voice that matches well with Mann’s power. Her soprano is top-notch and opera fans will enjoy her high range in “Think of Me,” “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” and the stunning duet of “The Phantom of the Opera.”
With that one exception – the use of the chandelier was a disappointment – the set design is a visual treat, with great use of screens to give some scenes almost an old-time movie effect. There is some liberties taken with the underground lair and the famous boat journey, but they worked well. The lighting by Paule Constable is also strong and give some scenes a letterbox look, which I thought was very interesting.
The cast is formidable with some powerhouse voices. Storm Lineberger holds his own as Raoul in the duet, “All I Ask of You” and is a worthy advisory to the Phantom. David Benoit and Price Waldman as theatre owners Monsieur Firmin and Monsieur André respectively, add some humor to the show and are a kick singing “Notes.” Jacquelynne Fontaine gets some big laughs as the aging soprano Carlotta Giudicelli.
In this new version, dance numbers seem to have been expanded. I would also have liked to have seen more of the Phantom and his story come to life on stage. Now I realize that asking for more from the title character is a bit odd, but too often I feel the character is lurking and not enough emphasis is really placed on the love story.
If you’re a Phantom fan, there’s really nothing not to like about this production aside from possibly the chandelier. But if you’re someone who doesn’t appreciate operatic music, I’m not sure this new version will change your mind. I enjoyed seeing Cassidy’s eyes light up at intermission talking about the wonders of it all and how she would one day want to play Christine, but her exuberance didn’t make me any more of a fan of the musical.
Phantom of the Opera . Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber . Lyrics by Charles Hart (with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe) . Book by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber . Orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Directed by Laurence Connor . Featuring Chris Mann, Katie Travis, Storm Lineberger, Jacquelynne Fontaine, David Benoit, Price Waldman, Anne Kanengeiser, Phumzile Sojola and Morgan Cowling. The Ensemble: McKenna Birmingham, Stephen Mitchell Brown, Krista Buccellato, Jordan Craig, Steve Czarnecki, Kaitlyn Davis, Tynan Davis, Dan Debenport, Mark Emerson, Michael Thomas Holmes, Christopher M. Howard, Ted Keener, Jay Lusteck, Laura Mann, Kathryn McCreary, Adryan Moorefield, Shane Ohmer, Quinto Ott, Rebecca Robbins, Eric Ruiz, Travis Taylor, Victor Wallace, and Marguerite Willbanks. The Corps de Ballet includes Sarah DeBiase, Christina Dooling, Julie Eicher, Abigail Mentzer, Lily Rose Peck, Alexandra Pernice, Ally Taylor Sacks, and Tara Sweeney.
Choreography: Scott Ambler . Set design: Paul Brown . Costume design: Maria Björnson . Lighting design: Paule Constable . Sound design: Mick Potter . Musical supervision: John Rigby. The production is overseen by Matthew Bourne and Cameron Mackintosh. Presented by The Kennedy Center . Reviewed by Keith Loria.