Angels of Music Rejoice, 'Phantom' Reigns King
Make no doubt about it. There is a reason Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera is the longest running and top grossing entertainment show in the world. The musical works on every level. Not just works, but soars. Forget the much hyped sets including the much lauded chandelier, at the core of this mega-musical is an epic love story, which everyone can relate to. Having been honored to see some incredible productions, including the original with Michael Crawford and numerous subsequent Phantoms such as Robert Guillaume, Colm Wilkinson, Peter Karrie, Paul Stanely (yes from Kiss), Ron Bohmer and Brent Barrett, each has been a unique experience.
With one of the best scores ever written for musical theatre, the melodies come one on top of the other. What score in recent memory gives such songs as "Think of Me", "Angel of Music", "Phantom of the Opera", "Music of the Night", "All I Ask of You", "Masquerade", "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" and "Point of No Return". All this from the genius of Sir Andrew who wrote the piece for his then wife, Sarah Brightman. In fact, Phantom's song, "Music of the Night" was originally recorded by Ms. Brightman as a single called "Married Man" which reflected her early relationship with Sir Andrew.
This is the fifth time the Phantom has haunted Chicago. For the 36-member national touring company performing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, John Cudia stars as the Phantom. Mr. Cudia has been involved with both the Phantom and Les Miz for the last ten years and holds the honor of the only actor to perform both the roles of Phantom and Jean Valjean on Broadway. His interpretation of the character is, in a word, mesmerizing. He is at once mysterious, sensual and sweet, which is incredible considering the mental derangement of the character. Cudia's voice is more sensual than sinister. With every soaring note, Cudia's inspires joy, loathing and sadness for the solitary Phantom.
Sara Jean Ford is absolutely perfect as Christine Daae. With a voice which is simultaneously strong and delicate, she evokes a passion for life and for music in the innocent character of Christine. Her chemistry with Cudia is enthralling. Although they are never meant to be, Christine and the Phantom are extraordinary as a couple. The charged emotions between them are felt in every scene, especially in the final act when Christine returns the engagement ring to the Phantom, which had most everyone in the theatre wiping tears from their eyes.
Christine's young lover Raoul, charismatically portrayed by Greg Mills, who was terrific in The Woman In White on Broadway, is the dashing hero that every young woman wants by her side. Mills brings an element of tenderness to what can be a thankless role. His dynamic voice inspires the audience with hope for the young lovers despite the hell that they are cast into by the Phantom.
Rounding out the cast is the hysterical team of Bruce Winant and D.C. Anderson as Monsieur's Firman and Andre while Kim Stengel shines as our favorite Prima Donna, Carlotta.
This current tour is also benefiting by some revisions to the orchestrations which are subtle and most certainly welcome, especially in the performance if "Il Muto" where you can truly get the feeling of an opera score. The entire production looks crisp and clean and the standing ovation of the opening night audience whom the majority has certainly seen the show more than once, proves this show still packs a wallop.
The Phantom of the Opera plays through January 5, 2008 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago, Illinois. For more information on show times and tickets, please visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com or www.thephantomoftheopera.com
Photo of John Cudia by Joan Marcus