Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: Phantom of the Opera, Still Impressive After All These Years

Katie Travis as Christine and and Chris Mann as the Phantom.
All photos by Matthew Murphy

Spectacle wins out in Cameron Mackintosh’s latest tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Less reinvented than it is repackaged, the crowning glory of this production is its lavish costumes and sets (by Paul Brown and Maria Björnson respectively), and the lush sounds of its 17-member orchestra (under the direction of Richard Carsey). No matter what else you may think, David Cullen and Lloyd Webber’s soaring orchestrations never fail to send chills down the spine. The power of that gorgeous music is undeniable and, as such, provides a full and rich musical experience, even if it is impossible not to hear the voices of Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman who will “always be there, singing songs in my head.” That’s the challenge for anyone who remembers their original work.

This new Phantom (Chris Mann) is a reality show find from The Voice so he may succeed for anyone who followed his career on the show, but you won’t find the charisma and utter pathos that Crawford brought to the role. There are moments he comes close, as when he offers Christine (Katie Travis) his ring, but he still needs time to grow into the role.

As for Travis, she does well with the vocally challenging part, and her diction is admirable given the high tessitura, but her consonants too often interrupt the sheer beauty of the vocal lines, causing them to lose some of their intoxicating impact.

The classic story of the deformed “opera ghost” who lives beneath the Paris Opera House hasn’t changed in the 29 years since Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe adapted Gaston Leroux’s novel “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra” for the stage. The elusive Phantom still secretly nurtures a young singer from the chorus whom he intends to make a star, until her childhood sweetheart returns and becomes a rival for her love. Disasters occur when the Phantom’s demands are disregarded by the opera house’s new ownership, resulting in chaos and tragedy. It’s exactly the kind of stuff grand opera is made for and that this musical alternately sends up and takes quite seriously.

When humor is allowed to lift the drama, the production sparkles, thanks in part to the charms of Jacquelynne Fontaine as the spoiled prima donna, Carlotta. Anne Kanengeiser is formidable as ballet mistress Madame Giry.

Jacquelynne Fontaine as Carlotta

Anne Kanengeiser

The Corps de Ballet in Hannibal

Two distinct color schemes emerge in the design. For scenes that are filled with theatricality and life, it is as if you are flipping through a series of Toulouse-Lautrec picture postcards with a Degas or a Caillebotte thrown in for good measure. These are wrought in vintage golds and warm umber with brilliant dashes of red and green.

In contrast, those that reveal the Phantom’s world are rendered in deep blues and blacks. The updates include a new revolving set piece with precarious steps that appear and disappear as the actors descend into the murky caverns below the opera house. Anyone who knows that other wildly popular Cameron Mackintosh behemoth, Les Misérables, knows how much he loves a good turntable. Here it is an impressive bit of stage magic that works beautifully.

Chris Mann and Katie Travis

Chris Mann

There are other familiar and striking images: the Phantom’s gondola still floats through a sea of fog, pillars of fire shoot up from the footlights, and a newly redesigned chandelier is ever-present.

Yes, the score still thrills, even after all these years, and the production will surely please the majority of viewers, especially those seeing it for the first time. Phantom enjoys a longer run at the Pantages Theatre, where it will play through August 2nd.

June 17 - August 2, 2015
Hollywood Pantages Theatre
6233 hollywood Blvd,
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Tickets: or 800-982-2787

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