New ‘Phantom of the Opera’ Offers Mixed Bag of Musical Tricks

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Chris Mann as The Phantom and Katie Travis as Christine Daae. Photo by Matthew Murphy
Chris Mann as The Phantom and Katie Travis as Christine Daae. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” remains one of the greatest musical theater pieces ever conceived (it’s the longest-running show in Broadway history, and is still running).

The story is a classic, the music inspiring, and the staging offers “Wow!” factors at every turn.

However, as musical theater creators are want to do, even iconic shows get makeovers. Several years ago, the musical “Les Miserables” abandoned its famous turntable stage in favor of a more traditional staging. “A Chorus Line”” recently updated its musical arrangements, although the classic  staging remained intact.

Now comes a new production of “The Phantom of the Opera” that plays at Segerstrom Center through this Sunday, and it may be the most reimagined staging of all.

Webber had altered his show somewhat for a Las Vegas version a few years ago (he cut the show to fit a one-act, 100 minute format), and the famous chandelier hung above the audience instead of rising from the stage.

The new touring production has been on the road for more than a year, and has reportedly received excellent reviews (the opening night audiences at Segerstrom Hall gave the show a healthy standing ovation).

Those who have not seen “Phantom” before, or whose memory of the original version has faded, will welcome this production as a superbly-sung, well-staged show with moody sets and glorious costumes.

However, if (like me) you’ve seen the original show multiple times and have the staging imbedded in your psyche, this new version is jarring—not bad by any means, just so different as to almost be a different show.

For example, instead of the chandelier raising from the stage near the start of the show and then dramatically crashing down to the stage at the end of act one, the chandelier now hangs over the audience and merely drops up and down.

When the Phantom takes Christine through the mirror to his lair, and leads her over bridges and through murky waters where lit chandeliers magically rise from the stage—well, that’s mostly gone now (instead the Phantom and Christine descend stairs to a waiting boat, which takes them to his lair minus the many candles).

Numerous other staging differences have put the focus more on the relationships of the characters, which serves to give them more dimensions.

Fortunately Webber’s music is intact, sung here by a terrific cast including Chris Mann as the man behind the mask, Katie Travis as Christine Daaé, his protégé, and Storm Lineberger as Raoul, her secret lover.

This production of “The Phantom of the Opera” is well worth seeing despite the changes, and longtime fans and those curious to see what the difference is can still catch the original production on Broadway.

Single tickets start at $39. Go to SCFTA.org for details.

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