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Las Vegas' 'Phantom'- Still Stunning and Spectacular

Having been a theatergoer more years than I care to enumerate, I can honestly say I've seen lots of plays with lots of sets, lots of costumes and, of course, lots of performers. But never has there been any quite as spectacular as the very aptly named "Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular" which last night celebrated its first anniversary, and 501st performance, at the Venetian Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. 

This is notable because the show is thriving and looks to be set there for quite awhile. 

Not a person usually given to gushing, I really cannot find enough superlatives — interesting superlatives — to describe the show. 

This "Phantom" is not like any other production you may see anywhere. It is instead a re-branded, and somewhat re-imagined, version, that was housed in a new theater at that cost $40 million to renovate. The show itself cost $35 million to produce. 

The theater seats 1,800 and, unusually for Las Vegas was the first theater on the Strip without the ubiquitous cup holders on seats that encourage people to eat and drink while watching shows.  

When the audience enters, the walls of the theater and the stage are draped in steel-gray cloth that is soon lifted to reveal a breathtaking set piece: rows of red velvet opera boxes filled with an "audience" — in reality, mannequins — simulating an audience watching the onstage opera.  

The sets and costumes are based on the late Maria Bjornson's original designs, adapted by Paul Kelly and they are, truly, spectacular.  

In light of all the opulence, the question becomes: Can the performance itself measure up to its surroundings? The answer is a resounding, and happily uttered, "yes." 

Hal Prince directed with great imagination and, obviously, deep knowledge what it takes to keep the not-your-average-Broadway-or-West-End audience happy. Yet, the integrity of the show is there. After all, the Las Vegas audience has been taught to have an "only in Las Vegas" attitude toward entertainment. Where else can they see all those Cirque du Soleil shows?  Or Céline Dion in her own production show? Or David Hasselhoff (soon, Tony Danza) in "The Producers?"Well, you get the idea. There are more than 200 shows here. 

Thus, what isn't in this "only in Las Vegas" show is part of the story line, as the show's been cut to 95 minutes. So, you may wonder why something happens but, in the fast pace, you tend to quickly discard that thought and move on to the next onstage event.  

Anthony Crivello and Brent Barrett still alternate in the lead. This time it was Barrett, whose Phantom is more romantic, more lovesick than Crivello's, but his voice is wonderful and there cannot be any complaints about his performance. The night's Christine Daaé was Kristi Holden who, though lovely, doesn't bring as much presense to the part as the alternate, Elizabeth Loyacano. But lovely, with a lovely voice, carries the day just fine. 

This is not a "Phantom" for phan-atics or purists. But this is a "Phantom" that must be seen. We're lucky to have it here and wish for it many more anniversaries. 

Monday and Saturdays, 7 p.m. & 9:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, 7 pm. Tickets range from $115 to $150. www.tickets.venetian.com/online 


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