BWW Review: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Vocally Soars in Austin
Now playing at the Bass Concert Hall through April 30th, is the 1986 classic Phantom of the Opera. This Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, still running on Broadway as the longest running show in Broadway's history, has you humming as you leave the theater. Although many people criticize Andrew Lloyd Webber for his repetitive melodies, it is the magic of his music that will keep you singing a song or two and memorably reliving his orchestrations.
Phantom of the Opera opened in the London's West End in 1986. Based off of a French novel entitled Le Fantome de I'Opera by Gaston Leroux, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart collaborated to bring the story to life on stage. The tale of the beautiful young chorus girl, a soprano whose story is influenced by a mysterious teacher, love, music, and the darkness within that can drive us to passion and take us to a new place we never thought to explore. With the "show within a show" format, the audience is pulled into the story by many different characters and their key presence to make the dream of the Phantom become a reality. Like a chess board, the Phantom uses different ways to create his dream for Christine and make his own love for music come to life.
The traditional production has a twenty-nine piece orchestra. In this production the pit is narrowed down to fourteen, being lead by three keyboards to give that rock opera sound we love. It was expertly conducted by Jamie Johns. Mr. John did an excellent job playing both actor from the pit in one scene as well as holding together the large ensemble and leads through a challenging score. Personally, every time I hear the Entr'acte of this score, it brings back the memories of when I saw the production on Broadway over fifteen years ago.
Set design by Paul Brown is a beautiful large structure that rotates, piecing together like a giant puzzle transforming the stage. The rotation brings the stage to life and keeps the action moving from scene to scene, leaving great transitions throughout the show. Many productions are now on a turntable type of stage, some using the technology better than others. The large set pieces and the various background drops that are used in the show are wonderfully done. The colors work very well setting the mood of each scene, transitioning you to become part of the play within a play or to peek in the character's daily lives. My favorite piece was the organ segments hanging from the ceiling in the Phantom's home. Looking like candles, the element of the organ was not lost but rather used as a menacing object of power and illumination. MR. Brown's design certainly keeps the action moving and the audience in the world that he has created, during and in-between scenes. However, there are some iconic components that are left out of this new production. Most notably is the absence of the staircase in Masquerade. It is something that possibly the audience would remember from the original show due its dynamic presence. With the addition of the new large center wall set piece, the traditional boat ride is changed to a shorter ride as we see the Phantom use a different type of magic to lead Christine to his home under the theater.
The lighting design by Paule Constable is stunning. Along with the set design, the lighting sets the mood for each scene perfectly. The pooling light illuminates the actor's faces, enhancing and heightening the tension and emotions brought on by each scene. The colors of light also help with the passing of time, guiding the audience's attention to the key story components.
The actors seemed settled in their blocking and characters, lacking energy and motivation, to move on stage. Although the scenes moved fluidly from one to another, the bond between the three principles seemed lost. Many times I found myself looking at the back of actor's heads, or only their profiles for far too long causing me to miss their emotional connection to what was happening in their lives at that moment. I recommend going into this show with a fresh mind, and to try not to compare it too much to the original version as the dynamics between the Phantom, Raoul and Christine are not the same. The choreography by Scott Ambler worked well with the ever-changing performances within the play. The dancers worked well together bringing each part of the story to life, but like the blocking, the cast seemed settled and tired. In both the Dress Rehearsal of Hannibal and Don Juan Triumphant, the ensemble excels to bring life back to the stage with their precise movements and constant awareness of their characters.
Stand out performances included David Benoit (Monsieur Firmin) and Edward Staudenmayer (Monsieur Andre). This duo brings not just the comedic relief to the stage but the energy the show is lacking. Mr. Staudenmeyer in particular was strong, not just vocally but with every inch of his face and body he brought the character to life. His ability to command the stage as one of the new directors of the theater while using every inch of his body took command also of the audience's attention as well. The dynamic between these two actors is exceptional and reads naturally on stage. Mr. Benoit vocally is a joy to listen to, his diction is the clearest among the cast, again bringing full body presence to the stage for a full character experience. I was overjoyed to see these two as they entered the stage for each scene. The pair are quite connected and visually interesting to watch.
Anne Kanengeiser (Madame Giry) brings strength and compassion to the stage. Her posture and stage presence are commanded when she makes every entrance, and her character arch is very well understood throughout the course of the show. Others to mention are Trista Moldovan (Carlotta Giudicelli) who fills the role with a stunning soprano presence and humor with her over the top drama in the role of company lead. Ms. Moldovan has a beautiful vibrato and her dynamics are perfection while singing along with sometimes seven of her cast mates in very challenging orchestrations. Emily Ramirez (Meg Giry) is just the right amount of bubbles that the best friend of Christine needs. Her energy was a joy to watch.
Derrick Davis (The Phantom) presented with depth and a breathtaking tone spoken and sung voice, but physically I was underwhelmed by his performance. Mr. Davis is a wonderful actor to listen to, but many of his acting choices seemed forced, lacking a connection between body and lyrics. The Phantom is a very iconic character and Mr. Davis is doing an excellent job in all of his solo scenes. When Christine enters however it felt like The Phantom loses his strength and not for the right reasons. Act two certainly went better for Mr. Davis, his voice is perfect for the role and there were many more moments of emotional connection to not just his music but the woman he loves.
Katie Travis (Christine Daae) is disappointing in her role, pulling back musically in her upper register and lacking any emotional connection to her two male counter parts. The youthful excitement that you expect from the role is not there, as she looks more afraid on stage than one of going through a journey. Many times I found myself looking at the back of Ms. Travis's head, thus losing any possible emotional connection that could possibly happen. I never felt like Christine loved anything, not herself, Raoul, or The Phantom. Although Ms. Travis has a stunning soprano voice and breath control, technically it lacked the dynamics to enhance her emotional connection to the character. Vocally Ms. Travis was strongest singing All I Ask of You with Jordan Craig (Raoul) however I was not feeling the butterflies of love passing between them, rather the scene of snow falling behind that felt more like it chilled their hearts with no hope for a future together.
My opinion is only one person, my own, but from the whispers in the lobby I know they are shared by some others. As stated before, I would recommend seeing Phantom of the Opera with new expectations and a fresh lense as it varies from the original version. The music is slightly changed and the blocking does not always lend to help the character's connect however the vocal talent and dancing ability on that stage is wonderful to watch. It is certainly a special night out with a friend or loved one. Many of the patrons were dressed in gowns and formal attire which makes my classic theater heart sing. The theater should be a special place and it was wonderful to see the audience go back to their roots and dress up for the show.
Tickets are available at http://ustour.thephantomoftheopera.com/ or http://bassconcert.hallaustin.com. The show runs April 19-30th, find more details about show times, as they do vary per show on the websites listed above.