BWW Review: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at Paramount Theatre

BWW Review: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at Paramount Theatre
Quentin Oliver Lee and Eva Tavares captivate
in Phantom of the Opera at the Paramount
Theatre. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

The Phantom is back, and he's here to bring you dreams and nightmares, music and mystery, opulence and wrath. Cameron Mackintosh's production of The Phantom of the Opera at the Paramount Theatre is a masterpiece of spectacle. From heavily adorned costumes to pyrotechnics to shimmering chandeliers, this show sparkles from top to bottom. The Phantom of the Opera has long reigned as one of the jewels in the pantheon of musical theater. The current national tour retains the beauty of the old while incorporating new technical marvels. The sets and costumes are fit for a palace while the staging ensures that the story is not lost among the grandeur. Compelling and mesmerizing, Phantom hits all the high notes.

The Phantom, also known as the Opera Ghost, lives in a secret lair in the bowels of a Parisian opera house. He considers the theater his own, and uses destructive and violent pranks to get what he wants. After one such episode, the opera's star soprano, Carlotta, refuses to perform until the Phantom situation is managed. Christine Daaé is plucked from the ballet corps to perform Carlotta's part and save opening night. Christine is a great success, and the Phantom is instantly captivated by her voice. He spirits her away and their fateful relationship begins. Raoul, Christine's childhood friend, also saw her performance, and his fondness for her is rekindled. When both the theater owners and Raoul dare to obstruct the Phantom's plans for the show and for Christine, he declares war. Passions rage and music soars as they battle for control on stage and below.

Jordan Craig is dashing as Raoul. His duet with Christine, All I Ask of You, is incredibly touching, allowing you to sink into the dreaminess off the song. Jacquelynne Fontaine (Carlotta Giudicelli) is all diva. She embodies the effortless nature of a long-time star. I dare you not to love her. Kristie Dale Sanders (Madame Giry) gives me flashbacks to the toughest (and best) ballet teacher I ever had. Her presence is so embedded in her character that you could forget that it is an actor inside that costume. And much like Snape, one costume is all that is needed to establish her persona. She is all Giry, all the time. David Benoit (Monsieur Firmin) and Rob Lindley (Monsieur André) provide an unexpected dose of humor. Their performance in Notes is a sorely needed respite from the intensity that pervades the majority of the show. They are delightful and compliment each other well.

Eva Tavares (Christine Daaé) packs a mighty wallop in her tiny stature. With her background as a competitive dancer and opera training, it seems she was born for this role. While her skills as a dancer and singer (holy high notes batman) may have lead to her casting, it is her ability to portray the vast array of emotional complexities that truly makes her succeed as Christine. Quentin Oliver Lee (The Phantom) provides the yin to Christine's yang. His stature allows him to tower over Christine providing a visual reference to the power dynamic at hand. This Angel of Music has quite possibly the most perfect diction I have ever heard on stage. Every single uttered syllable resonates with complete clearness. Together Tavares and Lee paint a picture of gothic love with equal parts of beauty and tragedy.

The show is produced on a grand scale. With over 1,200 costumes pieces (a few of which are over 25 years old and from the original production), the show is like a moving, dancing art gallery. The women in the corps de ballet are all en pointe and go through a pair of ballet shoes every 2-3 weeks. The shows surrounds and envelops all your senses. There are over 200 speakers in use including approximately fifty that are part of the surround sound package. The giant rotating set has many looks and interior spaces. Backstage must be a much larger space than I have envisioned for it all to fit. The giant chandelier is also a star in the show. Designed by Howard Eaton of London Olympic ring fame, it contains over 6,000 beads. The chandelier perfectly blends with the interior space of the Paramount. I wish they could just leave it here.

The opening of Act II has long been one of my favorite scenes in all of musical theater. The exquisite costumes and masks provide the eye candy to match the joy that fills your ears. Masquerade is simply a perfect, full company song. Its power, richness, harmonies, and ridiculously high high-notes are seldom matched. The only sad part is that there is no reprise for those of us who want to relive that beautiful moment.

While Phantom is a mainstay of musical theater with seven separate productions currently performing all over the world, it is still changing and adapting to its audiences. When I first saw the show is 1991, the romance was the center and heart of the show. The Phantom received an enormous amount of sympathy and forgiveness. Society continues to pity his childhood and decry the wrongs done to him. Yet, the audience in no longer quite so ready to let him off the hook for his own choices. Perhaps the "Me Too" movement has sharpened our ears and eyes to what is acceptable behavior and what is not. His fascination with Christine becomes an obsession. He declares that he owns her voice and immediately our heckles rise. This production carefully walks the line in its presentation of and reaction to the Phantom. It will be interesting to watch how the character and show continue to evolve through the years. For one thing is for certain, The Phantom of the Opera is here to stay.

The Phantom of the Opera is playing at the Paramount Theatre now through August 19th. For information or tickets, visit www.stgpresents.org.

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From This Author Kelly Rogers Flynt

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