Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece The Phantom of the Opera is a show that evokes extremes; one either loves it or hates it, there seems to be no middle ground. The pop-opera returns to Seattle’s Paramount Theatre with a full orchestra (a rarity in itself these days) and a large cast to present a newly revised performance of the longest running show in Broadway history.
The story line is classic Gothic/Horror – especially for the time it was written. It is the late 1800’s in Paris, France. The opera house has just transferred hands to new owners (Msr: Firmin and Andre). It is believed that a Phantom haunts the Paris Opera House, since numerous and dangerous ‘accidents’ keep occurring. When Carlotta the lead soprano refuses to go on, the ingénue Christine Daaé is put on in her stead and performs incredibly! An unknown, spectral teacher has secretly coached Christine, and she believes it is the Angel of Music sent to her by her late father. It turns out the opera has a new benefactor, Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, who is an old friend of Christine’s family. Their reunion sparks romance between them and when Raoul goes to arrange a celebration for the ingénue’s fantastic debut, the Phantom appears from within the mirror in a jealous rage. The Phantom whisks Christine away to his secret lair under the opera house, where he confesses not only his love for his pupil, but also that he has written an opera for her. Using his hypnotic power, and playing into her superstition about her dead father’s legacy, the Phantom seduces/rapes Christine before allowing her to return to the opera in the morning. Using fear tactics and eventual murder of a stagehand, the Phantom forces the opera owners to perform his production with Christine (who is both compelled and terrified to perform) as the lead. Knowing that the Phantom won’t be able to resist his prodigy’s singing Raoul and the opera owners devise a plan to trap the Phantom once and for all.
The cast of the production is large and they all do good work. The ensemble all dance and sing well adding to the show and contributing a highly enjoyable performance. In the group numbers (such as Masquerade) they move with excellent precision and in wonderful synchronicity. The supporting players do good work, not getting too campy – which can easily happen – and not stealing any scenes, but naturally letting their characters speak for themselves. The characters of Carlotta Giudicelli (played by Trista Moldovan) and Ubaldo Piangi (Phumzile Sojola) are the opera house’s lead players. They both have excellent voices and play the roles with subtle comic relief. Ms. Moldovan allows the Diva to become a peacock, while Mr. Sojola lets his Divo show off his pompous behavior without being cliché. Msr. Firman (David Benoit) and Msr. Andre (Rob Lindley) are the new opera owners. Their characters let the audience experience the owners’ joy-to-fear-to-frustration as the Phantom continues to plaque their investment.
The leading roles (involved in the love triangle) are absolutely fantastic with their performances. Raoul (Jordan Craig) easily endears the audience to the young Vicomte that has his heart stolen by a childhood love. His voice is strong, as is his stage presence, and he shows the range of emotions from falling under Christine’s spell, to his rage and determination at seeing the Phantom’s downfall.
Christine Daaé is played by Eva Tavares. Ms. Tavares possess classical opera training and her voice definitely shows it. She is perfect as the beautiful young girl that becomes the Phantom’s obsession. Her innocence is easily projected and the audience experiences right along with her as it transforms into fear and terror. Her voice is beautiful; easily making the theatre rafters ring, and seduce the audience with every note. Ms. Tavares takes full control of her instrument from the delicate, hesitant love songs and ballads, to the running of scales and the impressive higher ranges of the production’s key songs.
The Phantom is the real star of this pop-opera and is played expertly by Quentin Oliver Lee. Mr. Lee portrays this tragic figure extremely well; letting the audience at first recoil with start, then soften with explanation, before reaching out with pity and compassion at his plight. His voice is strong, and Mr. Lee emotes well whether the character is seducing Christine, raging against the world, or inflicting fear on the opera house and its audience.
After more than 35 years on Broadway, and being seen by billions of people worldwide, it is easy to see why the show would need a bit of a facelift. The sets are redesigned giving them a spiffed up look with a definite more gothic feel. Theatrical special effects have improved by far (since the show’s premier) and the pyro kinetics utilized in this production is definitely amazing. The costumes have been slightly changed (don’t worry, not the Phantom’s mask) to make them more glamorous for the theatres. For those who have seen the show several times (you know who you are), the way to the Phantom’s underground lair has been altered and improved upon. Instead of diagonally descending on catwalks across the theatre, the Phantom now leads Christine out of a secret door to the Opera House’s exterior. There they descend down a set of magical stairs before getting aboard the Phantom’s gondola and traveling across the underground lake to his lair.
Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber definitely earns his place in the undisputed contribution to musical theatre. While Phantom of the Opera projects definitive polar opinions from those that see it, this production was enjoyed very much. The music is grand and sweeping and, if you don’t mind a bit of redundancy, can become a bit of an earworm. The songs and lyrics have become classics in the world of theatre, and will be recognizable to many (if not all) members of the audience.
The Phantom of the Opera (book by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Scory by Andrew Lloyd Wevver, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe) opened in London’s West End in 1986. Michael Crawford stared in the title role and Sarah Brightman (Mrs. Andrew Lloyd Webber at the time) as Christine. The show was nominated for five Olivier Awards (winning four, including Best Actor in a Musical – Michael Crawford), and is still running at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. Opening on Broadway in 1988 (with almost the same cast), the show was nominated for nine Tony Awards (winning 7 including Best Actor in a Musical -again to Michael Crawford- and Best Musical of 1988). A film version of the pop-opera was released in 2004. The film was directed by Joel Schumacher, and stars Gerard Butler (Phantom), Emmy Rossum (Christine) and Patrick Wilson (Raoul).
The Phantom of the Opera runs at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre through August 19th. Get tickets and more info here.