BWW Reviews: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA unmasks fresh ideas
Seeing the national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera" is like visiting an old friend who's gotten a sleek, stylish makeover.
It's still the same dear friend you knew and loved, though outward appearances have changed.
Laurence Connor's new staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic musical, which opened at Greenville's Peace Center recently, is dynamic and captivating - well worth your time - though not revelatory or earth-shaking.
After all, Harold Prince's original 1986 staging already held enormous appeal, featuring eye-popping technical wizardry. It's not for nothing that Prince's original production is the longest-running musical on Broadway.
What the British director Connor offers are fresh ideas, a few surprises and even more pyrotechnical razzle-dazzle than the original. Connor didn't touch Lloyd Webber's score, except to add a few passages from the 2004 film of the musical.
Opinions may differ among the musical's devoted fans - may their tribe increase - but if you already love "Phantom," I think the visual trappings of this production are not likely to greatly alter your enjoyment one way or the other. This is no radical high-concept staging.
This production really soars on the strength of its cast, particularly Julia Udine as Christine, the young singer adored by the mysterious, disfigured Phantom who haunts the Opera Populaire.
Connor and set designer Paul Brown do offer an intriguing take on "Phantom." Brown's unit set is a towering cylinder that twists on its circular axis and opens to reveal various rooms as well as the Phantom's underground lair, reached by magically appearing stairs. This "Phantom" also burrows more deeply into the backstage world of the opera house.
Gone are the original grand staircase and choreography for the big Act II ensemble number "Masquerade" - something many fans may miss. The full company, however, delivers that chorus magnificently. Gone also is the Phantom's creepy bride doll - which certainly won't be missed.
This staging seems streamlined and grittier - the unit set resembles a prison tower - but it remains a lavish production, requiring 21 tractor-trailers to transport. The show's iconic chandelier is brightly bejeweled and plummets on cue.
In keeping with musicals these days, the volume of this "Phantom" is pumped up - particularly in the thundering "The Phantom of the Opera."
For the most part, this "Phantom" does not tamper with Maria Bjornson's original, colorful costumes.
Cooper Grodin's Phantom is younger than usual for the title character, who seems almost awkward at times around Christine. Connor and Grodin seem to want to remind us that the Phantom is a brilliant man, though one who's suffered tremendous mental abuse and social isolation. He's a bit of an idiot savant, though he becomes increasingly commanding during the course of the musical.
Vocally, Grodin is a strong Phantom and especially appealing when suavely crooning "The Music of the Night."
Udine's Christine is a marvelous ingenue with a sparkling soprano. Her affecting "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" is beautifully, meltingly rendered.
The third member of the musical's love triangle, the nobleman Raoul, is played forthrightly by Ben Jacoby.
The clarion-voiced soprano Jacquelynne Fontaine and the ringing tenor Frank Viveros are superb as the opera stars Carlotta and Piangi who constantly try to out-sing each other, holding their high notes interminably.
Several others offer fine contributions, including Hannah Florence (as the young dancer Meg), Linda Balgord (ballet-mistress Madame Giry), and Brad Oscar and Edward Staudenmayer (the impresarios Firmin and André).
Richard Carsey conducts a briskly paced show though he nicely relaxes the tempos occasionally for a ballad like "Music of the Night."
This beguiling "Phantom of the Opera" continues at the Peace Center through May 25. For tickets, call 864-467-3000.
Paul Hyde is the Arts Writer for the Greenville (S.C.) News and Southeast Editor of Classical Voice North America. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.