Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
As The Phantom of the Opera approaches its 30th anniversary on Broadway, many theater fans have likely either seen it in New York or on tour. The current tour, currently at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati, varies greatly from the original direction and design of the show which has long been associated with the material. We had this same tour in 2014, but this differing approach still feels fresh. Add in solid performances and the well-known score, and audiences are certain to enjoy this production.
The Phantom of the Opera is the famous story of a mysterious figure who haunts the Paris Opera House circa 1881. He secretly tutors a young woman in the chorus named Christine Daae and attempts to win her love, but is foiled when Christine falls in love with her childhood friend Raoul, a wealthy patron of the opera. The Phantom seeks his revenge and stops at nothing to have Christine for his own.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's music is coupled with lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe. Although Mr. Webber has his fair share of critics, and has often been accused of borrowing liberally from many classical composers (as well as himself), there's little doubt that he provides beautiful, lush melodies for The Phantom of the Opera. The lyrics are, if not exceptional, suitable and serve the piece well. Songs including "Music of the Night," "All I Ask of You," and the title number are beloved by millions around the world. The book is credited to Lloyd Webber and Stilgoe. Their take on the classic story effectively mixes romance, drama, comedy, and suspense, but is somewhat short on character development.
The Phantom of the Opera, much more so than most shows, has been associated with its original director, Hal Prince, and his staging. As a result, a version featuring a unique look, feel, and presentation of the material provides a chance for theatergoers to experience the show in a new way. Tour director Laurence Conner supplies a more intimate staging of the show. His work results in wonderfully smooth scene transitions, an extremely clear communication of the story, and effective humor. Mr. Conner also skillfully takes cues off of the lyrics for some of his directorial choices. Many mainstays of the original blocking are gone and may be shocking to fans. However, for each missing item, there's a new wrinkle which brings added depth or understanding. The limited choreography by Scott Ambler, also a departure from the original, is apt. The orchestrations by David Cullen and Lloyd Webber are attractive and fitting, and the large pit orchestra for this tour is capably conducted by Dale Rieling.
The other primary changes are in the physical production. The handsome set design by Paul Brown is smaller than the Broadway version, but uses technological advances from the last twenty-nine years to compensate for it being scaled down. Despite being less grandiose in size, this set still has ornate details, an impressive variety and functionality, and provides for the needed stage magic and theatricality. Again, fans will miss some of the set pieces, such as the grand staircase for "Masquerade," but the new designs are notable in their own right. Paule Constable's stark lighting incorporates shadows and multi-angled spots very effectively. Christine Rowland has adapted the late Maria Bjornson's original costumes with some notable updates.
As the Phantom, Derrick Davis is a skilled singer, but his classical vocal approach doesn't fit as comfortably with some of the more pop musical theater songs as it does for some of the more operatic material. And though he is a large and looming physical presence, he doesn't quite peel back the layers of the tortured creature to provide the needed depth to overcome the melodramatic nature of the role. As Christine, Katie Travis is endearing, sings with a pleasant tone and clear diction, and gives a solid portrayal. Jordan Craig is strong vocally as Raoul, but comes across as a bit stiff in the challenging role. Effectively providing much comic relief are Trista Moldovan (a deliciously self-indulgent Carlotta), Phumzile Sojota (a pompous Piangi), Price Waldman (an overwhelmed Monsieur Andre), and David Benoit (a clueless Monsieur Firmin). Understudy Tynan Davis is appropriately staunch as Madame Giry, and Emily Ramirez is a sympathetic Meg. The entire cast displays solid timing and vocals.
The Phantom of the Opera remains a beautifully designed and directed musical, even if the staging and visuals vary from what theatergoers are accustomed to seeing. The musical contains melodic and memorable songs and a gripping story, and the current touring cast is up to the challenge in this re-imagining of the now-classic musical.
The Phantom of the Opera continues through November 27, 2016, at the Aronoff Center. Tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 982-2787. For more information on the touring production, visit www.thephantomoftheopera.com/ustour.