Stage review: Freshened 'Phantom of Opera' still enchants
February 24, 2015 12:00 AM
"The Phantom of the Opera" company performs "Masquerade."
Katie Travis and Chris Mann star in "The Phantom of the Opera."
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The star of “The Phantom of the Opera,” the Experience — or so it deserves to be called — is the glitzy and gritty restaging now holding court at the Benedum Center.
Sparks fly, sound surrounds and an ingenious cylindrical tower reveals every nook of the haunted Paris Opera House that was first besieged by the Phantom in Gaston Leroux’s 19th-century novel. The juggernaut musical by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, with co-writer Richard Stilgoe and lyrics by Charles Hart, has personified the horror and passion of the novel to a fever pitch that has created several generations of phanatics.
'The Phantom of the Opera'
Where: PNC Broadway Across America - Pittsburgh at the Benedum Center, Downtown.
When: Through March 1. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays (plus 1 p.m. Feb. 19); 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets: $34-$100; www.trustarts.org or 412-456-4800.
The shift in the touring company’s version isn’t seismic but adds a fresh sheen to a show that boasts 27 years and counting on Broadway. The North American tour, with a cast of dozens and a production by Paul Brown, was sent into the world with Matthew Bourne (“Matilda”) bestowed an “overseen” credit.
The Pittsburgh setting adds to the ambiance, as the lavish production seems to spring organically from the Benedum’s own ornate decor.
The iconic opera house chandelier has a new look as it hovers precariously over the audience, awaiting its famed drop as the Phantom exerts his power over an increasingly traumatized company. The huge fixture doesn’t do a lot of swinging and is probably less a shock to the system after such a long life as the show’s centerpiece. It’s still a neat trick, but it doesn’t seem to pose the dangers that, say, the steps to the Phantom’s lair do to anyone who dares descend.
Another difference under tour director Laurence Connor is evident from the beginning. The diva Carlotta is usually a shrill, comedic character, so when the Phantom (Chris Mann) demands that she be replaced by his protege, Christine Daae (Katie Travis), there’s not a lot of tension. But here, Jacquelynne Fontaine’s Carlotta displays a gorgeous soprano that soars above them all. The Phantom’s menace thus functions as being more in the name of love than art.
Christine, the object of his affections, is torn between two men: the Svengali-like Phantom who is father figure and mentor on the one hand and a dangerous but romantic figure on the other, and the adoring Raoul (Storm Lineberger).
The heat on stage comes mostly from the pyrotechnics. Christine shows no initial affection for Raoul, who is more pragmatic than romantic. The Phantom begs her to “give in to your dark side,” and Raoul’s there to help her fight the instinct.
Ms. Travis is a delicate but determined Christine, and Mr. Mann, a pop singer by way of NBC’s “The Voice,” gives in to a more vulnerable side and dares to believe “a loathsome gargoyle” can find a measure of happiness. Watch for him when you’re not expecting the Phantom — he’s always lurking, sometimes in plain sight.
It’s not all melodrama. There’s humor delivered by the Phantom himself, who sends note after threatening note to the harried new owners of the company. Frank Viveros also garners a few laughs as the opera company’s chief baritone and clown.
There are too many times when overlapping vocals get in the way of each other and drown out lyrics for those who are new to the production, but the music and production are so vivid, you get the idea.
The orchestra, 10 local musicians along with a handful of touring players, is up to the task of the best-known “The Music of the Night,” “Think of Me” and “All I Ask of You.” The lavish company number “Masquerade” takes place in a hall of mirrors, reflecting the original Paris Opera House and, when the Phantom appears, a house of horrors.
Die-hard phans will recognize the original costume designs by Tony winner Maria Bjornson and details such as the Phantom’s music box monkey. With the organ tuned to maximum melodrama for this one-of-a-kind musical theater experience, the Phantom still beckons after all these years.
Sharon Eberson: email@example.com or 412-263-1960. Twitter: SEberson_pg.
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