Following an acclaimed sold-out tour of the United Kingdom, Cameron Mackintosh’s spectacular new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s phenomenal musical success, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, is now on tour across North America. Critics are raving that this breathtaking production is “bigger and better than ever before.” This PHANTOM features a brilliant new scenic design by Paul Brown, Tony Award-winning original costume design by Maria Björnson, lighting design by Tony Award winner Paule Constable, new choreography by Scott Ambler, and a new staging by director Laurence Connor. The production, overseen by Matthew Bourne and Cameron Mackintosh, boasts many exciting special effects including the show’s legendary chandelier. The beloved story and thrilling score – with songs like “Music of the Night,” “All I Ask Of You,” and “Masquerade” – will be performed by a cast and orchestra of 52, making this PHANTOM one of the largest productions now on tour.
“The Phantom of the Opera is there – inside my mind”
On Thursday, my dream of seeing The Phantom of the Opera live on stage came true. And it far exceeded anything I could have ever possibly dreamed of. ‘Spectacular’, the production undoubtedly is; the musical is breathtaking, sensuous, poignant and exhilarating. Seeing it on stage reminded me why I fell in love with the Phantom from the moment I first heard it, and has only made me fall in love with it even more.
Seeing it on stage brought it to life in a way no movie or CD ever can. Sitting to the left of the center in the first row of the dress circle at the Princess of Wales theater, I had an unobstructed, perfect view of the entire stage, allowing me to be fully immersed in the world of the opera.
What the show does so brilliantly is to make you feel a part of the opera; while in the audience, you become a member of the fictional audience in the musical. You feel as if you are seated in the Paris Opera House watching the operas, and feel the shock as the chandelier plummets. When the Phantom is singing out threats his voice comes from behind you, and in Don Juan Triumphant, the police officers stand in the wings of the upper levels, the shutting doors reverberating around you. For the scenes that don’t take place on stage, you become an omniscient observer, feeling as if you are perhaps a ghost who is haunting the opera, watching all.
The production is utterly transfixing. The sets are simply stunning, the costumes lavish, transporting you back in time to a bygone era that truly comes alive before your eyes. Transitions between the scenes are flawless, sets magically unfolding out the one which preceded it.The lighting is also fantastic. The look of sunlight, moonlight, and candlelight is beautifully mimicked, adding another degree of realism and emotion to the stage. The pyrotechnics are incredible too, with fire shooting from the stage and an exploding chandelier.
Some scenes are bursting with detail such as the opening scene of Hannibal which is overflowing with singers, enchanting ballet dancers and exciting props. Others are deceptively simple, such as the Phantom’s lair, stripped down to a bed, organ, and table. The world of the stage is full of glitz and glamour, while that of the Phantom, dark and foreboding. My favorite set was that of the masquerade ball, but by far the most memorable for me is the quiet, moonlit rooftop set.
In an interview in the Tampa Bay Times, Mackintosh says of the new production: “It’s not better than the original. But it does have a very different, slightly more gritty, darker, and I think in a way more passionate look at the material.” The music, lyrics, and for the most part, the original dialogue remains the same, but slight changes in the details, and the intonation of lines are all that is needed to subtly alter the feel of the musical.
The orchestration is improved, and while I don’t have an ear for music, it certainly sounded perfect. Slight tweaks to the dialogue succeeded in providing some much needed humour; the audience laughed on many occasions. Carlotta (Jacquelynne Fontaine) was more down to earth, not as dramatic and certainly not as shrill. You feel bad for her, rather than just wanting her off the stage.
But perhaps the biggest change is the Phantom himself. I’ve always struggled with the concept of a confident and sexy Phantom, which contradicted with the facts that he had been living under the Opera house alone, a social outcast. So instead of a Phantom who sends Christine roses, who holds and embraces her assuredly and dreams of marrying her, this Phantom is much more awkward and twisted, filled with self-loathing and madness, longing for company and redemption. But also much more achingly human.
“Pitiful creature of darkness…what kind of life have you known…?”
This adds a darker feel to the story, while not detracting from the romance of the musical. If anything, the love between Christine and the Phantom is all the more beautiful, as he becomes more man and less monster, lowering his mask, both literally and figuratively, when with her.
Chris Mann as the Phantom is truly phenomenal. His performance is believable, both incredibly moving and scary, his vocals are sublime. His presence is constantly felt on the stage, always lurking in the shadows. Yet, that is not to detract from the performances of Katie Travis, who plays an youthful, innocent Christine, and Storm Lineberger who brings a warmth and sincerity to Raoul. Really, all the performances were amazing.
The love triangle is also placed in a new light, with Raoul coming between Christine and the Phantom. Raoul is the childhood friend who falls immediately in love with Christine upon seeing her on stage, and who at first, Christine shows little affection for. She is much more enamoured with the mysterious Phantom, only turning to Raoul for comfort when things start to go horribly wrong. Thus, her choice at the end is between love, and and the life of freedom which Raoul can offer her.
Stunning and moving from start to finish, I adored Mackintosh’s new production. The standing ovation the actors received from the audience was undeniable deserved. I only wish that it weren’t over, and that I could stay in the theater and watch it again and again. I’m trying desperately to hold on to the experience in my head, but like a dream that dissipates upon waking, I know some details will be forgotten. I’m hoping that it will be released on DVD so that I can relive the experience once more.
“It’s over now, the music of the night”