Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
The Phantom of the Opera
The new version is much tighter than the original. I'm not sure how much has been cut from the script, but the lyrics and dialogue flow more quickly than before. Even more important, the characters are better developed. The trimmed script moves the action quickly and with a sense of urgency. The urgency adds to the threat and the promise of pain. However, nothing important is lost.
The auction scene, which starts the script, is played behind a scrim and gives a feeling that each moment is a moment recalled from earlier times. The chandelier, which weighs 1,500 pounds, falls toward the audience, but does not crash into the stage. The Phantom's mask is removed much earlier than before, and the audience sees him without the mask many more times. This does not prevent the Phantom from being a threat to Christine and to the opera house. The Phantom without his mask permits the audience to come into the plot and watch with increasing horror.
There are more scenes with the three leading charactersThe Phantom (Chris Mann), Christine (Kaitlyn Davis) and Raoul (Storm Lineberger)and the three performers have glorious voices. As a trio, they are simply spectacular. At one point during a trio, I listed to the audience. The 2,000+ in attendance were absolutely silent, focused on the music and the action on the stage.
Scott Ambler choreographed two shows for this production. The first was the opera Hannibal. This opera is the production in rehearsal when the performance starts. Ambler choreographed dances with performers in long skirts and elaborate costumes. The rehearsal takes place in a tight staging area. As the production progresses, Amber choreographed the dances and the movements for the main plot of The Phantom of the Opera. For example, the second act opens with a grand masquerade ball, held in the ballroom of the Paris Opera. Amber made the dances for the two historical periods distinctly different.
The script is set in a Gothic style, when melodrama was becoming popular. All of the versions of The Phantom of the Opera rely on the novel "Le Fantôme de l'Opéra" by Gaston Leroux (1868-1927). (Don't worry if your high school French has slipped away. Most libraries have excellent English translations of Leroux's great novel.) Leroux and the modern playwrights have an understanding of melodrama and the necessity of leading the audience into the dark underworld of the opera house.
The first version of The Phantom of the Opera was criticized for being melodramatic and sentimental. Now, we accept these comments as descriptive of the stories of that period. However, the new version of the script is less melodramatic and sentimental than the original script.
Paul Brown designed multiple sets for the show. The set with steps leading to the Phantom's labyrinth under the stage is visually spectacular and yet functions well for the performers and the telling of the story. The set for the Phantom's cave under the theater is elaborate and full of visual surprises. The Phantom's hideout includes a large bed, an organ, and equipment for him to design and produce items he wanted (the monkey, which holds tambourines and snaps them together). Some have noted the Phantom is an engineer at heart. Brown is a master of the use of color. He challenges the audience with a red office, a dark underground, and the bright colors of the set of Hannibal.
Maria Björnson received two Tony Awards for the original Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera, one for costumes and one for the set. Now, Christine Rowland is the costume coordinator for the late Maria Björnson. The costumes are much like those in the original production and earlier touring productions.
Visually, this production offers more than eye candy. The sets and costumes provide exquisite visual treats. The walls for the set are unfolded by two stagehands. To reach the Phantom's lair, one walks down a flight of stairs built onto a large circular wall or cylinder. Each step is drawn into the wall after a person passes that step on the way down into the basement of the theater. That leaves the cylinder smooth, without protruding steps. The show is laced with pyrotechnics. At one point the footlights, which in the late 1800s were fueled by gas, shoot flames almost to the top of the proscenium. From the seventh row I could feel the heat from the flames. Spectacle was a necessity in the theaters of the late 1800s.
This production of The Phantom of the Opera is a must-see show. The tour is booked for more than a year and could run for even longer. After Cleveland, it moves to the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. (July 13 through August 20), then to Denver (August 8 - September 11) and on. Don't miss this production!
Through July 10, 2016, at the State Theatre, Playhouse Square, 1519 Euclid Avenue. For tickets, call 216-241-6000 or visit www.playhousesquare.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.thephantomoftheopera.com/ustour.