BWW Review: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA reigns supreme at Broadway At The Hobby Center

BWW Review: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA reigns supreme at Broadway At The Hobby Center

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA returns to the Hobby Center this year with a diverse cast, amped up effects, and a much more impressive set design than previously seen. It remains the splashiest and most fun piece of pop opera ever launched, and doesn't disappoint as part of the Broadway at the Hobby Center series. It is highly recommended, and removes any aftertaste of the subpar (but still fun) sequel that was here mere months ago. This spooky operatic riff on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST set in a gothic French theater works like gangbusters.


Andrew Lloyd Webber's most successful musical ever mounted has just passed thirty years on Broadway, and marked a casting milestone recently with the first Asian Christine joining its cast. It has officially become the longest running show on the Great White Way, and in London it has been running since 1986. Over 130 million people around the world have attended this show, and it continues to hold strong as an attraction no matter where it lands. It's easily one of Webber's most accessible shows blending elements of rock and opera together in a unique way that basically created a career for his ex-wife Sarah Brightman. It also honors the legacy of Queen's BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY in that manner of blending the two genres so handily.

It's the simple story of an Opera House haunted by a ghost who makes terrible things happen when he is not paid and honored. He takes a liking to a young company member named Christine, and teaches her how to sing better in her dressing room while pretending to be an angel sent by her father. Things get complicated when the theater gets new owners, and a new patron who was a young boyfriend of Christine's. Soon there develops a romantic triangle that fuels the Phantom to grow ever more aggressive in his attacks on the theater he lives under.

For this Hobby Center production we are given the chance to see an outstanding touring cast performing in recently redesigned technical elements. Probably the most striking thing I noticed right away was that this time the production team has decided to use colorblind casting infusing a higher amount of racial diversity than any other tour of the show I have seen. It is done without fuss, and adds a certain universal appeal in just looking across the stage and seeing it.

The strongest performance of the evening belongs to Quentin Oliver Lee who plays the titular PHANTOM. He is a notably tall African American performer who has a certain grandeur to him in both body and voice. Lee is a graduate of Northern Arizona University with a bachelor's degree in vocal performance. He moved to NYC, and resorted to singing in the subway to make ends meet (giving him underground performer credibility. He made his Broadway debut in a show called PRINCE OF BROADWAY. What makes him so awesome in this role is his menacing physical presence married with a smooth expressive voice that hits all the right notes throughout the evening. When you match his towering height with a voice that spits out the PHANTOM's high notes with full throated ease it's mindblowing. He is not afraid to play both the monster and the sexy siren that the role demands any actor to become. I noticed he sometimes held his body in such an interesting way it made me think of the silent masterpiece NOSFERATU and actor Max Schreck. But yet as scary as he can be, there is a tenderness and vulnerability in both his presence and singing that makes the magic of the show work.

Eva Tavares plays Christine Daae, and she displays both her opera and theatre training to great effect. She captures the innocence of the show's ingenue in a charming way. Eva has a sweet voice that makes the audience believe in Christine's romantic plight being torn by both her high school sweetheart and a musical monster. She nails everything throughout the evening, even if at times I wish she had a more visible darker streak to up the ante. Houston theater goers may well recognize Christine's suitor played by Jordan Craig. He started his professional career here at Houston Grand Opera as well as local theaters, and he makes a stunning Raoul. When the trio of the Phantom, Christine, and Raoul hit the emotional climaxes of the show you realize the power of these performers.

The supporting cast is up to the level of the leads. At Press Night last Friday Sarah Mossman performed as the grand diva Carlotta, and she was dazzling as if born to play to part. Rob Lindley and David Benoit revel in the musical comedy of the new theater owners who have to figure out what to do about the disturbance caused by their Opera ghost. Emily Ramirez from Katy, Texas (!) is on hand to play Meg Giry the best friend of Christine in the ballet corps. The entire ensemble does wonderful things with both the vocal score and the elaborate choreography. You can tell all of these performers are loving being in this production, and are giving it their all every single night.

This tour features sets and costumes inspired by original designers Paul Brown and Maria Bjornson. The infamous chandelier that proves to be a pivotal plot point is ominously large and heavy looking. It moves around the stage with an amazing grace and when required does what it needs to in the night's most thrilling moment. Stairs appear from nowhere, pianos become possessed, and fire rumbles out of the stage at key sequences throughout the night. This PHANTOM is as thrilling as ever, and possibly even better with age. Technically the effects still work, and I watched as the shocked younger members of the audience witnessed practical effects to contrast all the CGI they had grown up on. PHANTOM OF THE OPERA still has the same magic three decades later.

It seems a shame this production only runs between November 7th through the 18th at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. It's certainly one most Houstonians would be wise to catch given the outstanding production including a dynamic cast and superb sets and effects. Tickets can be purchased at houston.broadway.com or call 800-982-2787 to speak with a ticketing associate.

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From This Author Brett Cullum

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