When looking at the statistics of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of The Opera” it is clear why Cameron Mackintosh wanted to put a new spin on the masked figure for a re-imagined national tour. “Phantom” is the first stage production to reach worldwide grosses of $6 billion (out grossing the likes of “Avatar,” “Star Wars,” or any Marvel superhero), and the Broadway production, which just recently celebrated its 31st anniversary is the longest-running show in Broadway history. For a show that’s crossed every milestone in the book, sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can add a welcomed new texture.
Granted, as soon as the whopping 57-piece orchestra (conducted in this production by Jamie Johns) swells with that iconic overture (you know the one), it reminds us how the captivating score outshines Webber and Richard Stilgoe’s somewhat mundane plotting. Currently taking up residency at the Detroit Opera House through Feb 3rd – the show has been re imagined for a newer generation in “Cameron Mackintosh’s spectacular new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘The Phantom of the Opera’” (say that five times fast). Though no major plot changes seem glaring, the producers have taken it upon themselves to tweak the dubious chandelier crash at the end of Act I, as well as some other staging mechanics.
The story, based on the French novel “Le Fantôme de I’Opéra,” takes place within the walls and catacombs of the infamous Paris Opera House, where the titular and troubled Phantom (delicately performed by the terrific Quentin Oliver Lee) exercises his reign of terror on a company whose current production is in shambles and he ends up falling madly in love with company member Christine Daaé (Eva Tavares).
Christine is plucked from the corps de ballet after the cocky soprano starlet Carlotta (the stunning Trista Moldovan) refuses to perform until the violent pranks of the Opera Ghost are handled. To salvage opening night, Christine sings her heart out and immediately captivates the benevolent villain, who then whisks her away to his lair and their crazy love story unfolds. To complicate matters, Raoul, a long-time childhood friend to Christine, also manages to see her star-making performance on the same fateful night and his love for her is rekindled. Passions and orchestrations rage as both the Phantom and Raoul vie for her affection.
Jordan Craig’s Raoul is incredibly touching and manages to melt hearts with the sweet duet sung with Christine: “All I Ask of You.” Tavares manages to pack an emotional punch in her small, but mighty stature alongside Lee’s strikingly haunting and towering Phantom, providing the perfect blend of emotional dynamics and physical contrast on stage. Diction is also a key component in the titular character’s performance and this Phantom is crisp to a tee.
Obviously, “Phantom” has no shortage of songs, as the entire show’s plot is driven by the pipes of this solid ensemble who manage to belt some of Broadway's most coveted tunes. Among them: “Masquerade,” “The Music of the Night” - and ultimately, “The Point of No Return.”
On the technical scale, the largest touring production in North America bares no expense, because everything is polished and in tip-top shape. The aforementioned chandelier (a huge technical achievement in its 1988 heyday) bursts with glowing LED lights and is equipped with all the bells and whistles including pyro, lights, fog, and pneumatics. Structurally, Paul Brown’s scenic design embraces the spirit and versatility of the original production, which necessitates 110 stage hands for each performance to swiftly move from scene to scene without conflict. Each sequence is in one constant swoop, and Brown’s design allows the freedom for the actors to engage with their surroundings, thus heightening the overall theatrical experience.
Other areas, specifically the sound department who manage over 200 speakers to create the full illusion that the Phantom could literally be anywhere, are a highlight, while Maria Björnson’s stunningly adorned costuming remains a high bar for period pieces. But truly, it withers down to the cast and how good they sell the material; this company is filled to the brim with richness, beautiful harmonies, and tough-to-sing high notes.
With several productions on tour globally as of this writing, it’s clear the type of mainstay appeal “Phantom” has for the average theatregoer; perhaps shedding new light on the performance in 2019 allows for insights unheard of before. If you think about it in the current political and cultural climate, maybe audiences won’t be so eager to forgive the Phantom for his misgivings. In some cases, as in the earlier runs of the original show, folks often (and still do) express sympathy for the Phantom, and perhaps that’s the crux of what Mackintosh is reimagining: he reminds us that the Phantom, while a hopeful and blissful romantic, is tinged with an almost unforgivable darkness, leaving audiences torn between his ability to love and his ability hate.
At least he can sing though.
PHANTOM continues through Feb 3rd at The Detroit Opera House. Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmater.com, in addition (at the box office) student rush tickets (with valid ID) can be purchased two hours prior to each performance.