BWW Reviews: Facelifted PHANTOM Returns to Haunt Columbus
In the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, a white mask adds intrigue and mystery to the identity of the Phantom. In real life, the "newly reimagined" PHANTOM, with its multimillion dollar facelift by set designer Paul Brown, is hiding behind a similar mask.
However, remove the crashing chandleries, strip away the breathtaking scenery, and take out all the dazzling special effects, and the audience is still left with a compelling story and a handful of a solid performances that are well worth watching. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA made its return to the Ohio Theatre on March 5 and will be staying March 16.
In her touring debut, Julia Udine is a perfect fit as Christine Daae. With a gorgeous soprano voice, Udine captures the inner turmoil of a woman being pulled in two different directions by a love triangle between Raoul (Ben Jacoby) and the Phantom (Cooper Grodin). In the "Notes" scene in the second act, Udine conveys Christine's frustration that her ascension from chorus girl to star is being perceived as a result of her relationship with the Phantom rather than because of her own talent.
Christines' romantic rivals Grodin and Jacoby (a Denison University graduate) are worthy adversaries of each other. Grodin handles the arc of making the Phantom grow from being a cruel, stalking psychopath (he does murder two people, a chandler and Carlota's singing career after all) and to being ultimately a sympathetic love interest. At first Raoul comes across as cocky, self-assured and brash but by the end of the show, Jacoby conveys those flaws are outweighed by his love and concern for Christine.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is often made by the performers outside of this love triangle. Linda Balgord, a Drama Desk Award nominee for THE PIRATE QUEEN, brings to a dark mysteriousness to Madame Giry, who acts as a conduit between the Phantom and the rest of the outside world.
Providing the comic relief to the mix are Craig Bennett (Monsieur Firmin) and Edward Staudenmayer (Monsieur Andre), the hapless owners of the Paris Opera House, who must cater to the whims of the dueling egos of the Phantom and prima donnas in residence Carlotta Guidicelli (Jacquelynne Fontaine) and Ubaldo Piangi (Frank Viveros). The owners complain about the Phantom's demands but do so very quietly rather than risk further catastrophes befalling their struggling theater.
The real highlight of the show however is the imaginative staging over the two-act performance. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA takes its audience on a journey throughout the Paris Opera House: the Phantom's lair, the ballet dressing room, the manager's office, and its grand ballroom as well as outside the theater to a graveyard in Perros.
The crash of the chandelier may no longer be the best special effect in the show. The staging of Masquerade in a gigantic mirrored ballroom and the creepy shadows acting out Giry's telling of how the Phantom went from being a circus sideshow freak to "the Angel of Music" are both haunting and magnificent.
The cast of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is compelling enough not to need a lot of flash and fireworks to be a good show. Retooling its special effects and staging elevated the show from being just good to something unforgettable.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA will be performed March 5-16 at the Ohio Theatre (39 E State St, in downtown Columbus). Tickets are available at the CAPA Ticket Center, all Ticketmaster outlets, and www.ticketmaster.com. To purchase by phone, call (614) 469-0939 or (800) 745-3000.