BWW Reviews: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA National Tour Haunts Boston Opera House
The Phantom of the Opera
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Charles Hart, Additional Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe, Book by Richard Stilgoe & Andrew Lloyd Webber, Based on the novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra by Gaston Leroux, Orchestrations by David Cullen & Andrew Lloyd Webber, Musical Supervisor John Rigby, Video & Projection Design by Nina Dunn for Knifedge, Sound Design by Mick Potter, Lighting by Paule Constable, Costume Design by Maria Björnson, Set Design by Paul Brown, Choreography by Scott Ambler, Directed by Laurence Connor, Musical Director Richard Carsey, Production overseen by Matthew Bourne & Cameron Mackintosh
CAST: Cooper Grodin, Julia Udine, Ben Jacoby, Jacquelynne Fontaine, Brad Oscar, Edward Staudenmayer, Linda Balgord, Frank Viveros, Hannah Florence, Mark Emerson, Eric Ruiz, Edward Juvier, Jay Lusteck, Michael Thomas Holmes, Allan Snyder, Christy Morton, Celia Hottenstein, Grace Morgan, Kathryn McCreary, Luke Lazzaro, Lindsay O'Neil, Merritt David Janes, Quinto Ott, Nick Cartell, Morgan Cowling, Anjelica Bette Fellini, Ramona Kelley, Abigail Mentzer, Lily Rose Peck, Micki Weiner
Performances through July 20 as part of the Lexus Broadway In Boston Season at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA; Tickets may be purchased at the Box Office or Ticketmaster 1-800-982-2787 or www.BroadwayInBoston.com
In celebration of its 25 years on Broadway, Cameron Mackintosh brought forth a new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera for a North American Tour, now in its Boston premiere at the ornate Boston Opera House. Directed by Laurence Connor, with choreography by Scott Ambler, impressive set design by Paul Brown, Maria Björnson's Tony Award-winning original costume design, and evocative lighting design by Paule Constable, the show is a visual spectacle that has enough magical effects to transport the audience to the Paris Opera House in the late 19th century.
The mostly sung-through musical is carried on the accomplished voices of the large ensemble and the 17-piece orchestra under the direction of Richard Carsey. Webber's lush score dramatically swells and ebbs to convey the story of the mysterious masked figure who lurks below the Opera House, instilling chaos and terror in the owners and performers who labor there. The Opera Ghost (O.G.), as he refers to himself in numerous demanding missives, takes an interest in an innocent young soprano from the corps de ballet, Christine Daaé, and nurtures her talents to advance her in the company. When his interest becomes obsession, she realizes she is in over her head and seeks comfort in the arms of an old friend, her new suitor, Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny. This does not sit well with the Phantom as he believes that Christine owes him her devotion for the musical gifts he has bestowed on her, and he uses a variety of methods to register his displeasure.
Cooper Grodin is a more youthful Phantom than I have seen in past productions and brings a sultry athleticism to the role. His singing ranges from forceful and hypnotic in the title song, to hauntingly seductive in "The Music of the Night" and "The Point of No Return." He succeeds in evoking a mélange of feelings toward his character, including curiosity, fear, contempt, and pity. Christine shares those feelings and Julia Udine is wonderful in portraying them all and more. She has the crystalline voice to justify both the Phantom and Raoul falling in love with her, and she sparkles in the role, blossoming as Christine becomes a star in the opera company. Although any romance between their characters is ill-fated, the connection between Grodin and Udine is electric. Ben Jacoby is a strong presence with another great voice as Raoul, but his chemistry with Udine is less compelling.
The supporting cast is topnotch across the board, from Broadway veterans Brad Oscar (The Producers) and Edward Staudenmayer (Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me) as the bumbling owners of the Opera House; to Jacquelynne Fontaine and Frank Viveros, who have the operatic vocal talent to play the diva Carlotta and star tenor Ubaldo; to Linda Balgord, who plays ballet mistress Madame Giry with an iron hand and a soft heart; and Hannah Florence as one of the ballet girls and Christine's loyal friend, Meg Giry. In smaller roles, Jay Lusteck (Monsieur LeFévre), Michael Thomas Holmes (Monsieur Reyer), and Allan Snyder (Joseph Buquet) capture the nature of their characters with little fanfare. The men and women who appear in the operas performed by the Paris company, as well as the women of the Ballet Chorus, sing and dance with artistry and technical precision.
Brown's set, augmented by Nina Dunn's video and projection design, Constable's lighting, and Björnson's costumes deserve much of the credit for the rich atmosphere in which the story of The Phantom of the Opera comes to life. The infamous chandelier hangs over the front rows of the orchestra section like the Sword of Damocles and plays its dramatic part to close the first act. The trajectory of this behemoth differs from what I remember in previous versions, but I don't know if it is intentional, or if there was a mechanical snafu on opening night. Either way, it was disappointing for me, but first-timers may feel differently. Sound design by Mick Potter is generally satisfactory, although some of the lyrics are swallowed up in competition with the orchestra, especially in the songs featuring multiple-part counterpoint.
Theatergoers generally have strong opinions about Andrew Lloyd Webber's oeuvre and The Phantom of the Opera in particular. If you have not been a fan, it may be time to revisit as this new production is true to the original and spiffed up at the same time. Whenever new actors step into the iconic roles of a franchise musical, there is a shift in tone and this cast is no exception. Grodin and Udine are spellbinding and capture the imagination, almost making it seem that the Phantom and Christine could make a go of it. Well, perhaps in the sequel.
Photo credit: Matthew Murray (Cooper Grodin, Julia Udine)