BWW Review: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at Shea's Buffalo Theatre
Seldom is there a musical where the question asked is not whether have you seen it, but rather how many times have you seen it. Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1988 blockbuster THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is such a musical. Repeated viewings are commonplace in Western New York, with many having seen the original Toronto or New York production in addition to many of it's national tours.
The most recent tour, already seen once in Buffalo in 2015, has been restaged by Director Laurence Connor, replacing the iconic Hal Prince production that has been playing on Broadway for 30 years. Some may at first be put off by some of Connor's new direction, but rest assured new and different is not worse, and in many cases more creative. This elegant version has received glorious new sets by Paul Brown, while retaining most of Maria Bjornson's Tony Award winning costume designs. This musical tale is based on Gaston Leroux's novel "Le Fantome de L'Opera," and can often be macabre, grotesque and melodramatic. It appears that Connor has swayed more towards the macabre in this production, since we often visualize on stage the Phantom's deceitful acts of destruction and death.
Quentin Oliver Lee recently stepped into the leading role of this national tour. Mr. Lee comes to the production having been classically trained as an opera singer and brings a robust baritone voice to the part that commands the stage. His impressive height and agility suggests a younger Phantom than some. This staging literally fills the role with fire and brimstone, with fire igniting around the stage as the Phantom curses his victims, often to blinding and dramatic effect. Lee, who at times appears rigid, hopefully will soon revel in more of the perversion in the disfigured character.
Eva Tavares is Christine, the ingenue from the corps de ballet who becomes the Phantom's pupil. Ms. Tavares brings a lithe figure and elegant dancer's form to the role, while displaying a clear, if somewhat small voice for a newfound opera diva. Her young love interest, Raoul, played by Jordan Craig was a romantic foil to the Phantom. Their duet "That's All I Ask of You" was lush and sweepingly romantic. Webber knows how to suck the audience in with a recurring theme.
The two opera house impresarios were perfectly cast, with the brilliant Edward Staudenmayer as Monsieur Andre. His secure singing voice was equally matched by his comedic timing. Monsieur Firmin (David Foley, Jr) lent some levity to the evening's darkness. New choreography by Scott Ambler was deftly executed by the Corps de Ballet, and often conjured up visions of Degas' ballerinas.
Trista Moldovan fully embodied the role of Carlotta Guidicelli, the reigning prima donna of the Opera House. This character has some of the most challenging moments in the show, and Moldovan handled them well, but I wished for a larger voice to dominate the ensembles. She was paired with Phumziile Sojola, who stepped in on opening night as the Italian Tenor Ubaldo Piangi. The two garnered appropriate laughs at their stereotypical grandiose behaviors.
Such magnificent sets have rarely been seen in a touring production. The rotating turntable that brings Christine and the Phantom down into the bowels of the Paris Opera House and it's underground rivers, was magical and eerie. Floating stairs spookily erupted from the wall as the pair descended and then retracted again, leaving no way out. The opening of ACT II was moved from the grand staircase of the Opera House to a gilt mirrored salon. Towering statues on the roof of the Opera House and later the cemetery were beautifully lit by lighting designer Paule Constable. The glorious 1 ton chandelier was newly designed for this production and blended in seamlessly with the Tiffany chandeliers that Grace Shea's auditorium. Unfortunately it's crash at the end of Act I seemed slow and didn't elicit the drama one hoped for.
In a musical about opera, it would be remiss not to mention the the wonderfully melodramatic staging of the mock operas "Hannibal," "Il Muto," and "Don Juan Triumphant." Brown's set pieces and detailed backdrops were reminiscent of 19th Century grand opera, while Bjornson's exquisite costumes and wig designs were sumptuously evocative of the era. The orchestra was lush and the sound design by Mick Potter was fascinating, as the Phantom's voice was projected in multiple areas of the theatre as if he were everywhere at once.
While subtlety has never been the calling card of Webber's, his PHANTOM reigns as the longest running musical in Broadway history and audiences love it's grandiosity and sentimentality. It's quite likely that a new generation of theatre goers will chalk up repeated visits to this classic musical. Melodrama, musical theatre, opera, and ballet surrounded by lush appointments still proves to be the perfect formula to please audiences.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA runs at Shea's Buffalo Theatre through May 6, 2018. Visit sheas.org for more information.