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BWW Reviews: Reimagined PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Tour Makes US Debut in Providence

Mark Campbell and Julia Udine.
Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Please note: this review contains spoilers.

The Opera Ghost is haunting again. Three years after the US touring company of The Phantom of the Opera bowed for a final time in Los Angeles, a new anniversary production of Phantom brings its curtain up in Providence, Rhode Island.

The tour's much-touted, reimagined staging is a non-replica mounting of The Phantom of the Opera. While Andrew Lloyd Webber's glorious score and most (though not all) of the script and lyrics remain unchanged, the tour features a total redesign of Phantom's props, sets, and many of its costumes, as well as a complete revision of blocking and choreography.

Any non-replica production opens in the shadow of Hal Prince, Gillian Lynne, and the late Maria Björnson's original Phantom, a theatrical masterpiece that has captivated audiences worldwide for nearly three decades. Still, many of the tour's new visuals do work well, including the Opera's ghostly present-to-past transition during the overture, the vibrant dress rehearsal scene in Hannibal, the Phantom and Christine's descent to the underground lair, a suitably bacchanalian Don Juan Triumphant, and a very effective and swiftly-falling chandelier.

While these are examples of the tour's more engaging and thoughtful revisions, regrettably, the tour does not entirely live up to its "spectacular" billing. Other changes directly and negatively impact characterization throughout the performance. In several crucial scenes, the new tour abandons not only the look of the London and Broadway productions, but their heart and soul as well.

As Phantom, Mark Campbell's musical numbers showcase his rich vocal talent, and though he occasionally lacks the passion and full emotion essential in a truly compelling Opera Ghost, he also demonstrates a strong range in his delivery. However, the tour's staging and blocking disservice the Phantom from the start; in a bid for realism over melodrama, this "darker" interpretation of The Phantom of the Opera robs the title character of much of his mystery and sophistication.

The connection between the Phantom and Christine suffers most for this, and "Music of the Night" - the most widely-recognized and iconic musical number in the show - especially destabilizes the romance of their relationship. The Phantom keeps Christine blindfolded for much of the song, undermining the enchanting, dreamlike quality of the scene, while the new blocking repeatedly suggests (both in "MOTN" and again in Final Lair) that the Phantom holds a greater passion and esteem for his own music than he does for Christine.

The bittersweet, tender moment that generally closes "Stranger than You Dreamt It" is here played very dispassionately, and earlier in the scene (a shadow of things to come in act two), the Phantom furiously drags Christine to the floor by her hair after she sees his face. "Wandering Child" is another tough sell, the dramatic tension sapped from the characters' interactions as the whole of the graveyard scene takes place at stage-level. Where the Phantom once stalked the ledge of the mausoleum above Christine and Raoul, mesmerizing her from a distance and menacingly shooting fire from his staff, all three characters are now so physically close together that the Phantom and Raoul - literally - end up in fisticuffs.

The Phantom and Christine's complex and complicated relationship continues to erode, scene by scene, until the Final Lair. While the Phantom can and should be viewed as dangerous, even somewhat unhinged, by this point in the plot, he should also emerge as a pitiable character worthy of Christine's - and the audience's - compassion. Actors approach this most intense and deeply-emotional finale with varying levels of physicality, but the tour's Phantom acts with unequivocal violence toward Christine. He forcibly laces her into a wedding gown (the absence of a mirror bride in "Music of the Night" minimizes the import of that costume change), chokes her until she is nearly unconscious, and uses her as a human shield when Raoul arrives to rescue her. The Phantom also bodily pins Christine to his bed twice, an uncomfortable and troubling inclusion that weakens what should be one of the most heartrending moments in the story.

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