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BWW Review: PHANTOM Continues to Mesmerize in Reimagined Tour

In contrast to Andrew Lloyd Webber's grand romantic spectacle, the original "Phantom of the Opera" - written by Gaston Leroux - introduced cruel rivals of love and a much darker Paris Opera House and underground labyrinth. But pieces of Leroux's detailed book show influence in a fairly new and rather brilliant production of the musical, playing through this weekend in Fresno.

In the refreshed "25th Anniversary Tour," we hear Webber's grand score and narrative (albeit at a quickened pace), but we also witness scenic designer Paul Brown's backstage rehearsal rooms, managerial offices and magnificent mirrors appear from nowhere. Meanwhile, the Phantom lurks, commanding trap doors and hidden staircases. Then there's Paule Constable's majestic lighting design, set against magnificent backdrops of graveyard skies and rooftop rendezvous. It's unlikely any current touring show can match this "Phantom" in ornate detail, with its cast's flawless enunciation and its glistening chandelier and proscenium, covered in haunting, golden faces.

Fresno is the final stop for a few of the production's present leads, and although much of Laurence Connor's flawless direction will remain when new talents take the stage in Sacramento next spring, I highly recommend audiences see Chris Mann (of The Voice fame) and Katie Travis' tragic pair first. Mann's Phantom is tender and cautious, enfolding his music tightly and with as much passion as he might show Christine had fate been kind. Travis, who will continue in the tour, performs with calculated precision in word and action, from the ever-so-slight way she leans in when entranced by the Angel of Music to Christine's deeply felt expressions. Travis and Mann's vocal training also clearly show in what may be the best-sung "Phantom" you ever have the opportunity to see.

A younger Carlotta (the impeccable Jacquelynne Fontaine) matches Christine in voice. Her diva personality contrasts with Christine's innocence and sets her up as a worthy stage rival. Phumzile Sojola stands out as Carlotta's equally talented lackey. David Benoit and Price Waldman add welcome comic relief as the opera house managers. And Storm Lineberger's sweetly sung Raoul attempts to save his childhood sweetheart from an increasingly violent Phantom.

Anyone familiar with Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" will know what to expect from the familiar characters and promising production values, but this tour delivers that and much more.


Broadway in Fresno
Performances Tuesday through Sunday
at the Saroyan Theatre in Fresno
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

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From This Author Harmony Wheeler