BWW Review: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at Kansas City Music Hall
At the Majestic Theater in New York, the story of Erik, the disfigured musical genius, and Christine Daae, his beautiful young student, has played for more than 27 years and for slightly more than 12,000 performances. It has overhauled "CATS" as the longest running Broadway musical in history. It is a rock opera; a musical with almost no spoken dialog. The fact that the operatic score has remained so accessible and generally appreciated is a tribute to its composer.
Derrick Davis as the Phantom is a fine singer and an even better stage actor. Jordan Craig as Christine's lover, Raoul, is an excellent counterbalance to him. However, the vocal class prize goes to Katie Davis as Christine Daae. Katie is the whole package. She dances and she acts and can she sing! It is important to remember that "Phantom" was originally written for Andrew Lloyd Weber's wife more than 30 years ago, Sarah Brightman. Ms. Brightman has a clear ethereal quality to her upper range that is unusual. The producers have been fortunate to find Katie Davis whose voice matches the original top range so well.
This new iteration of this classic production has been entirely refreshed and reinvigorated. The multi-level sets have been reimagined. The famous falling chandelier has been upgraded with more than 6000 crystals, flash pots built on board, and a covering tarp that is flexible enough to be sucked into the center of the chandelier at the opening auction. "Phantom" requires than 900 lighting instruments to achieve the designer's intent. The entire set rotates on a huge turntable set upstage center. Some of the multilevel sets from the original staging have been sacrificed to this tour, but the changes have not hurt the show.
The whole cast of this traveling production is exceptional. The lead characters, the dancers, the ensemble, and the supernumeraries are top quality performers. If the actors can sing, this show is close to bulletproof. These actors can sing.
The quality of the acting and the physical relationships between the secondary characters have been enhanced especially in the OG Notes device scenes. This is the area where the writers have advance the story by singing (reading) notes delivered from the Phantom. A stage center presentation makes these "Recitative" sections more accessible than when you just hear the music. All these multiple upgrades, a mostly locally hired pit orchestra, and troupe of outstanding performers earn "Phantom" a second, third and even a fourth look.
There are eight authorized companies of "Phantom" playing around the world. It has been performed an unbelievable 90,000 times globe wide and the "Phantom" phenomenon shows no signs of slowing down. This current cast of 52 musicians and performers plus more than a hundred crew members do credit to the tradition of the Opera Ghost hiding in Box 5.
"Phantom of the Opera" is the descendant of a 1909 serialized magazine story by Gaston Leroux. Leroux was a Frenchman, a writer of tales best compared to those of the mystery writers of the 1930s. He was not terribly well regarded, but the Phantom has lived on and on. The story first transitioned to film in 1925 starring Lon Chaney Sr. It has been recreated on film several more times and twice as a musical play.
Part of the reason Phantom remains alive is because it is set in a real place. The actual Paris opera house is called the Palais Granier. The Palais is a ten story, still standing, performance venue in the heart of Paris. It was finished in 1875 as the completion of a commission from Napoleon himself. Pictures of it and its 2000 seat auditorium look at least as extravagant as the opera house imagined in "Phantom." The building has thousands of rooms including seven sub-basements below the stage level. At the lowest level lives a real subterranean lake, which might suggest a route to the Phantom's secret lair.
Of course, the Phantom is just a figment of Leroux's imagination, but there are rumors. In 1896, a true accident with a chandelier (very much like the one in the musical) killed a construction worker when a counterweight fell on him. The main backdrop Grand Drapery from this production is a dead ringer for the Grand Drape still hanging at the Palais Granier.
If you love "Phantom" to the point of obsession, there is breaking news. A touring production of Andrew Lloyd Weber's 2010 sequel to "Phantom" "Love Never Dies" has just been announced for its premier North American production in the 2017-18 tour season. Audiences who enjoyed what they saw at the Music Hall may soon have an opportunity to see a ten year older Christine be tempted by a Phantom (who has escaped the Palais Granier) to set up shop at Coney Island, New York in its heyday. Here his appearance is not extraordinary.
"Phantom of the Opera" continues at the Kansas City Music Hall through February 19. Tickets are available on the Broadway Theater League website or by telephone at 800-776-SHOW (7469).