Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
After 30 years in London and 28 in New York, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera continues to plug away. In an effort to keep the franchise fresh, producer Cameron Mackintosh is touring what he calls the "new" production, featuring a more streamlined set and updated technologies that also make the show easier to move and less expensive to produce. The musical is still entertaining after all this time, but this production is not especially involving on an emotional level.
At this late date, it's easier to see the contrivances behind the stagecraftthe fact that Lloyd Webber and lyricist Charles Hart open with a bombastic 19th-century opera pastiche, then present the very 1980s "Think of Me" as an aria in the same opera-within-an-operaand the gaps in the plot. (When the Phantom scares off the star soprano, allowing Christine to step out of the ballet chorus and into the lead role, suddenly we're in 42nd Street.)
Chris Mann has a hypnotic voice but his performance as the Phantom seems to be split in two: rampaging and murderous when the plot demands, but so gentlemanly with Christine (winsome Kaitlyn Davis, standing in for Julia Udine) that she would not need to fear him. (Well, except that he lives in the basement of the opera house, across an underground lake that can be accessed by a staircase that appears out of nowhere, and he can't decide whether to keep her to himself or share her with the world.) Raoul (Storm Lineberger) is suitably stalwart, diva Carlotta Guidicelli (Jacquelynne Fontaine) appropriately operatic in temperament, and ballet mistress Madame Giry (Anne Kanengeiser, recipient of two Helen Hayes Awards for past local productions) sepulchral and intense.
Paul Brown's set design has a central core that revolves and opens to reveal the managers' office, the Phantom's den, and other locations, with two-dimensional backdrops and a painted curtain delineating the onstage scenes. Paule Constable's lighting design and Nina Dunn's video and projection design add depth, while Maria Björnson's costumes are both opulent and a little shopworn. The most striking visual moment comes when the chandelier actually crashes down instead of deliberately creeping toward the stage.
The production makes do with a small orchestra (14 musicians including three keyboards and no live percussionist) that doesn't stand up to the excesses of the score.