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BWW Discussion: BroadwayWorld Orlando Chats New PHANTOM Tour

Last week, the newly reimagined tour of The Phantom of the Opera set up shop at The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Orlando. The production continues its run in the City Beautiful through Sunday. Two of BroadwayWorld Orlando's editors, Matt Tamanini and Kimberly Moy, attended the press night, and discussed their differing impressions afterward.

Moy is an admitted PHANTOM devotee, having seen the show many dozens of times. In fact, after attending Friday's Opening Night, she returned for three more performances over the course of the rest of the weekend. On the other hand, in his review, Tamanini explained that since seeing the show for the first time as a 17 year old in 1998, he has used PHANTOM as the low-point on his critical scale.

KM: I openly declare myself a Phantom Phan. I've seen the production all over the US including Las Vegas. Fun fact: PHANTOM on Broadway and I share a birthday (Jan 26). So make no mistake I am totally a PHANTOM snob.

MT: And I came into this production spending the last 16 years telling anyone who would listen that PHANTOM was the worst major professional show I had ever seen. So... we are coming from much different places here. Why don't you explain why you love PHANTOM so much.

KM: My obsession with Phantom began well over 15 years ago. I never liked musicals before, but a friend introduced me to the show. It was before YouTube, so she made me a cassette copy of a few of the songs. For me it has always been about the music. Webber's sweeping melodies and orchestrations just transport you, wherever you are, to this fictional Paris Opera. Then, for 2.5 hours, you can forget, and just watch. I admit the story is cliché, but it is so magical at the same time. I have seen the show well over 45 times including on Broadway, original National Tour, Las Vegas spectacular, and now this 25th Anniversary. When you've seen it as many times as I have, the closer you are to the stage, the better. You can appreciate the details and the things that happen in the background.

MT: Um, yea, I think that qualifies you as an obsessive. I first fell in love with musicals in 1994, when my grandparents took me to see Richard Chamberlin in the Pre-Boradway tour of MY FAIR LADY. From there I got into the classics, CAMELOT, MUSIC MAN, OKLAHOMA!, and whatever else I could check out of the library. So, I was used to differentiated songs, even newer "rock" musicals that I loved (like RENT) had individual songs; PHANTOM and LES MISERABLES just sounded like the same song over and over. I now understand that was leitmotif, but I was 12, what did I know? So, while the music was the beginning of the obsession for you, it is what initially turned me off, years before I saw the show.

So, since you know the show so well, what were the biggest changes for you?

KM: I read reviews about this new production a few years back, so I was prepared for everything to be different. I think the biggest change that any PHANTOM fan will notice immediately is the set changes. The music is all the same except for a few extra lines thrown in here and there.

MT: Even though my memory ain't what it used to be, I even recognized that the set was significantly different.

KM: I was expecting for the set changes to be similar to the Las Vegas Spectacular, but it wasn't. The chandelier is beautiful and made of crystal. It's smaller, but I imagine that is because the show travels. The iconic dressing room is gone and so is the well-known "Travellator" which takes the Phantom and Christine down to the lair. I like to believe that these choices were made because the technology out there is different now.

MT: As Frank Viveros, who plays Ubaldo Piangi, told me (watch the full video interview with Viveros, Katie Travis, and Jacquelynne Fontaine here), that's exactly what happened. As time progressed, so did technology, so they took advantage of it. I wouldn't even know how to describe the set, it is like a tall brick cylinder that has numerous ways of opening to unveil a new setting.

KM: The main set piece is multifunctional, what I'm going to describe as a trifle. It's a dessert that keeps on giving. There are so many layers and surprises. It's set on a LES MIS-esque turntable. I liked it, but it is definitely different.

MT: I mean, everything that has a turn-table is going to be compared to LES MIS, but beyond that, I didn't see the connection. This was a solid piece that opened in the middle, and had stairs appear out of the wall, and had sections pop out to make rooms. It was almost like a Gothic architecture nesting doll.

I know one of the set changes you liked the least was actually outside of the main set piece.

KM: Phantom's lair. I think you described it as an apartment in the East Village. It's no longer creepy and mysterious. The Phantom somehow got a four-post queen bed down there.

MT: Yea, it did look a little modern, and way too comfy. Almost like he shopped at Pier One. Ok, beyond the set, what did you think about the staging and directorial changes?

KM: One major difference about the new tour is the use of the dancers. The dancers are on-stage a lot more than in the original production. For example, in the original, during the "Overture," the audience is wowed as the stage reveals itself and the chandelier rises. In this production, there is a rehearsal dance that occurs during the Overture. I didn't dislike it, but it was different and distracting from the chandelier. There are dancers everywhere, which I suppose lends itself to more authenticity that we're actually in the Paris Opera.

MT: See, I have nearly no recollection of the specific machinations of the show, so I would have had no idea. That being said, I thought the dancing was spectacular. From that opening rehearsal, to each of the operas, to "Masquerade," I was thoroughly impressed, especially with the Corps de Ballet. In fact, I thought Morgan Cowling, who played Meg Giry, was a really pleasant surprise in such a small role, and I loved the show's Carlotta, Jacquelynne Fontaine!

KM: Speaking of choreography and "Masquerade," that number is completely different, and, this time, I

appreciate the difference. Spoiler Alert: No staircase, just a pretty, mirrored scene with a giant mirror on top. I like the choreography and the new costumes in this scene. Since the 2004 movie brought in so many fans, I would say this new "Masquerade" is more stylized like the movie.

MT: Wait, you think that the movie actually brought in fans? From the little I was able to stomach, I thought it would have driven them away, and I love Emmy Rossum. That wasn't fair was it? Ok, I know you felt like a lot of the darkness of the show was gone.

KM: Some of the directional choices I didn't agree with completely, but again I didn't necessarily dislike them all. It was just a different show. After seeing the 25th Anniversary Tour a few times now, I have decided that there is an overtly sexual feel to the show that isn't there in the original version. Maybe it's because it was more taboo in the 1980s, who knows? The Phantom's lair is no longer dark and mysterious, but sexy with a full-sized Queen bed that Christine falls asleep on. "The Point of No Return" has much more obvious sexual tension. For me it seems like the Phantom is only motivated by sex, and less out of actual love for Christine.

MT: Yea, I didn't get that vibe at all. Yes there were a few more blocking choices that I thought alluded to sexual intentions, but nothing, in my mind was overt. Instead, I felt it was like a teenager who is hoping for what he thinks sex might be. He's not exactly sure, but he thinks it might be cool. There was an air of innocence and naiveté with the Phantom that, frankly, surprised me. My memories of the show, and every marketing angle they put out there, is about a dark, brooding character that may, or may not, have a supernatural ability to control the mind of this young soprano. Other than a few well-timed explosions, I didn't see anything supernatural from the Phantom, and his connection to Christine seemed like nothing more than a deeply disturbing obsession.

Speaking of which, nothing about Christine's connection to the Phantom was either understandable or even explained, and that, to me, is the only relationship that needs to make sense in the show. Christine and Raoul can be a two-dimensional relationship, because there really isn't much depth to it. Though she ends up with him, it is the show's secondary relationship. But, I have to be able to understand the pull that Christine feels toward Erik The Phantom. It can't just be because he is a good vocal coach. Whether it is an attraction to the mysterious, a spell that the Phantom has placed on her, or just that she has a thing for guys in half-masks, I have to be able to sympathize with the fact that she has some sort of unexplained draw to the Phantom, and I just didn't. I don't know if that is because Katie Travis is still new to the role (and in my review, I said that I thought she was really good) or if it was a directorial decision, but that was a major issue for me with the show.

KM: During the cut scene between Don Juan Rehearsal and "Wishing", the piano is playing by itself the lyrics: "Poor young maiden! For the thrill on your tongue of stolen sweets you will have to pay the bill - tangled in the winding sheets!" is sung by the cast in a possessed manner. In this version the cast points at Christine and then it all breaks up. Meg sort of looks at Christine like she's done something wrong and runs away from her. In my opinion, these directional choices move The Phantom of the Opera from "a haunting love story" to "a sexually frustrated guy with a messed up face, and girl who is just looking for attention." In this version, the Phantom seems less mysterious and more like a disgruntled teenager.

MT: I completely agree, but I'm not sure if that is because of the direction, or Chris Mann's performance. I know he was an original Warbler on GLEE, but I don't think that he has a lot of acting experience otherwise, and I think it shows. Other than the very end, when we finally see genuine anger and vocal power, I think that he plays the Phantom with a nebbish quality that just doesn't make sense from a guy that can make fire appear at will.

To start wrapping up, were there any changes that you especially liked?

KM: Interestingly, PHANTOM fans will note there are alternate lyrics used during "Think of Me," "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," and "Wandering Child." If you've seen any other version in America then you've heard different lyrics. In "Wandering Child," they have brought the trio (Phantom, Raoul, Christine) singing back to America and I love it. It is my understanding that it was originally taken out for the audience to better understand the scene. Which is funny because I think it's way easier to understand than Prima Donna. Whatever key, the "Wandering Child" trio is in is just beautiful.

MT: Wow, that is some next level PHANTOM nerdom! Ok, wrap it up for me, given all of your years of obsession, what did you think of this reimagined version?

KM: My overall reaction to the 25th Anniversary National Tour is that I love it because it is PHANTOM. I love the music, dancing, costumes. While I disagree with some of the directional choices, the music is still the same, which is why I love it so much. With a production that has run as long as this one, the reason you go back is to see how different actors interpret their characters. I have not seen the show in New York since 2009, but I can't wait to go back in May to see this newer cast.

MT: I really enjoyed the show. The professional level spectacle is something that you just can't get in the local and regional theatre that I spend most of my time patronizing. But, to me, the issues with The Phantom of the Opera are just that, issues with The Phantom of the Opera. They are inherent in the musical's book, songs, and storytelling. While I would (almost) never turn down a chance to see the show again, this probably isn't one that I will be going out of my way to see as many times as you have.

Have you visited the Walt Disney Theatre to take in the new PHANTOM tour? Let us know what you thought in the comments below. You can follow Kim on Twitter @KMoy126, and Matt @BWWMatt. Also, don't forget to follow BroadwayWorld Orlando on Twitter and "Like" us on Facebook using the links below.

Photo Credit:
1) Katie Travis and Chris Mann: Matthew Murphy | The Really Useful Group
2) Frank Viveros: Matthew Murphy | The Really Useful Group
3) Cast performing "Masquerade": Alastair Muir | The Really Useful Group
4) Previous cast members, Cooper Grodin and Julia Udine: Matthew Murphy | The Really Useful Group

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