BWW Review: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA haunts the Buell Theatre
Do you remember what were you doing on September 27th, 1986? That is how long Phantom of the Opera has been on stage. Thirty years of audiences enjoying Sir Andrew Lloyd Webbers masterpiece. On top of the longest running production on both the West End and Broadway, there is also currently a US touring production which has landed here in Denver.
Phantom of the Opera is based on Gaston Leroux's French novel Le Fantome de l'Opera. The central storyline revolves around a love triangle involving a mysterious, facially disfigured musical genius (the Phantom) and his obsession with a beautiful young opera singer whom he's been training (Christine) who in turn is in love with her childhood friend and suitor (Raoul).
This refurbished revival under the direction of Laurence Connor, proves one thing: In the last 30 years, one of the things that has improved is theatrical technology. Paul Brown's set design is gritty and intriguing, as it delves deeper into the actual architecture of the Paris Opera House. One of the best moments was the reveal of a vanishing staircase that leads to the Phantom's underground lair. The infamous Chandelier moment has been updated with pyrotechnics and faux crystals raining down over the audience. Some of the audience felt it a nice touch, while others were just making sure that whatever hit them in the dark did not set them on fire. Paule Constable's lighting design was new and refreshing with a wonderful use of shadows, lending towards the grittier overall feel of the production. One of the only aspects that was recycled from the original Hal Prince production was Maria Bjornson's spectacular Tony Award winning costume design.
Original director Hal Prince instinctively knew that in order for Phantom to work, the show had to be a spectacle on the scale of grand opera-but the performances had to be sincere. Unfortunately, this is where this new production was seriously lacking. However, I am going to chock it up to direction, because all three points of the love triangle, chose to be incredibly over the top in their acting choices, which was not effective in the least bit. The Phantom, played by The Voice finalist Chris Mann, is a very complex character. And while Mann's voice was powerful, his acting invoked a feeling of a child who couldn't sit still. His best moments were in the stillness he summoned during "Music of the Night" and "All I Ask of You (Reprise)". Kaitlyn Davis as ingénue Christine, vocally soared, but again her acting felt spastic. During such iconic moments as "Think of Me" and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," in which the music and vocals speak for themselves, it felt as though Davis was struggling to remember the ridiculous blocking. Those are moments where it is more powerful to stand and sing and let the audience feel what you are feeling. Rounding out the lovers trio was Storm Lineberger as Raoul, a role which so often is thought of as third best; however, Lineberger soared in this role, seemingly one of the only ones at home acting on a stage. Not to mention, his beautiful vocals in "All I Ask of You."
Amongst the supporting cast, Jaquelynne Fontaine annoyed the heck out of me as prima donna Carlotta Giudicelli, meaning she did her job perfectly. Phumzile Sojola brought a wonderful level of comedy as leading tenor Ubaldo Piangi. One of the true gems of the production was Anne Kanengeiser, as ballet mistress Madame Giry, a role which has always intrigued me. Kanengeiser brought a wonderful level of mystery, leaving the audience to wonder what was the real relationship between her and the Phantom.
Overall, it was a good production but not a great one. If you've seen the original production, either in New York or London, you may leave disappointed. As a lady behind me in the audience stated, "Why do you have to update perfection?" But if you have never experienced the beauty of Andrew Lloyd Webber's score onstage, then you may want to get out to see this production. In my opinion, a good production is better than no production at all.