Tour Theater Review: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (North American Tour)

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by Tony Frankel on June 18, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours

THE PHANTOM MENACE

Last night’s opening of The Phantom of the Opera, a refurbished revival of previous national tours, proves one thing: Since Andrew Lloyd Webber’s baby was born almost 30 years ago in London, the only thing that’s improved is theatrical technology, not aesthetics or storytelling or performers.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 3 - The Company performs Masquerade - photo by Alastair Muir

In an overwrought, overblown production overseen by Matthew Bourne (of the gender-switching Swan Lake fame) and original mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh, the sets and lights have been beefed up by Paul Brown and Paule Constable, respectively, but aside from a gorgeous giant gilded proscenium and an impressive staircase with vanishing steps, the only thing that visually impresses is Maria Björnson’s original costume design.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 9 - Jacquelynne Fontaine as Carlotta - photo Matthew Murphy

The lush orchestrations (Webber and David Cullen), romanticism, clever pastiche of opera circa 1880, and heart-tugging, luxuriant melodies all remain. But even if you have never seen Phantom before, expect to lose an alarming amount of lyrics. Mick Potter’s scandalous sound design gives dialogue, orchestra, singing and effects equal importance, making this nuance-free production more suitable for an outdoor rock concert venue than the theater (I’ll concede that the Hollywood Pantages’ acoustics are daunting to overcome).

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 11 - Anne Kanengeiser - photo Matthew Murphy

The story, for those three people who don’t know, involves a facially disfigured man who lives in the tunnels below the Paris Opera House. He is so smitten with Christine, a young ingénue, that he hypnotizes her, teaches her to sing, and threatens the new owners and opera stars with disaster if his own opera is not performed with his beloved in the lead. In his warped mind, the unloved genius assumes this will make her marry him.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 16 - The Corps de Ballet in Hannibal - Choreography by Scott Ambler - photo by Matthew Murphy

Raoul, a childhood friend of Christine’s, sees her in a performance and decides that he is the one for her, which only further infuriates the titular opera ghost. Interestingly, after Raoul becomes secretly engaged to Christine, the Phantom kills innocent stagehands instead of the swarthy lothario—one of the multitudinous head-scratching story holes in Phantom.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 4 - The Company performs Hannibal - photo by Matthew Murphy

Original director Hal Prince instinctively knew that in order for Phantom to work, the now longest running show on Broadway had to be a spectacle on the scale of grand opera—but the performances had to be truly credible. Make it too intimate and the storytelling cracks show, as in the filmed adaptation; make it too bombastic, and there’s no emotional connection, as in this version.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 12 - David Benoit and Edward Staudenmayer - photo Matthew Murphy

Director Laurence Conner certainly succeeds in the staging of the 1881 opera productions within Opera, aided by Scott Ambler’s choreography, which hints at the horizon 25 years later and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Connor also creates intimacy with some of the smaller roles (Morgan Cowling is especially appealing as Christine’s friend, Meg, a dancer in the ballet), but the production is compounded by strange or less-than-impressive vocals from the leads: As the troubled troublemaker, Chris Mann’s approach to character development is to speak some lyrics—this isn’t My Fair Phantom, you know (coincidentally, Mann’s claim to fame is TV’s The Voice, the same major credit as Sasha Allen, who was unfit to play the lead in the current national tour of Pippin).

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 10 - Katie Travis with David Benoit and Edward Staudenmayer - photo Matthew Murphy

Katie Travis is well-suited for Christine, but I missed the warmth and crystalline power of previous Christines; she also lacked chemistry with Raoul, played by Storm Lineberger, who veered dangerously close at times to sounding like a Transylvanian Muppet. While some numbers (“Masquerade” “Notes”) clearly worked and “sounded” great (given the lost lyrics), it just seemed like everyone was trying too hard. Like the unloading of a two-ton elephant, nothing landed right. And in case you think bad reviews can kill a show, this thing is booking through 2020.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 8 - Chris Mann and Katie Travis - photo Matthew Murphy

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 15 - Morgan Cowling - photo Matthew Murphyphotos by Matthew Murphy & Alastair Muir

The Phantom of the Opera
North American tour
reviewed at the Pantages Hollywood on June 17, 2015

tour continues into 2020
for info, visit Phantom on Tour

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Cris Franco June 20, 2015 at 11:53 am

Mr. Frankel:

How dare you NOT love The Phantom of the Opera? The entire world loves Phantom. Whether it be Vegas’s pimped-out Phantom Experience! or a third rate bus-and-truck starring TV personalities that you never heard of, you must love Phantom. It’s the law!

I pray for your soul — and thanks for the warning.

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Richard Rucker August 13, 2015 at 6:52 am

I think you were too kind! There too many issues, but I will mention a few. The new staging seems to rely too much upon the behemoth rotating barrel, which some people have been fascinated with as being the true ‘star of the show’, but I feel it detracts from the show in part due the limitations it seems to place on the rest of the stage real estate. This is no better illustrated than in the severely truncated boat ride – which reminds me of Steve Martin’s satirical drive next door in LA Story. Another glaring example is in the scene previously in Christine’s own dressing room. No longer do you see the other ballerinas practicing on the side – there is no room for that. Additionally truncated in this production is the artistic vertical separation of the actors at key moments. The phantom who previously been menacingly and authoritatively positioned above the other actors is now placed on the same level – in the roof top scene, the masquerade ball, and even at the graveyard. This also leads to uncomfortable and even disturbing physical interactions between the lead characters – that do not add anything positive. Lastly, the misplacing of the musical box monkey in the phantom’s lair seems to completely rob it of any importance at all! Why would Christine ever remember that, and why would Raoul ever being buying it at auction? The amazing music and lyrics remain generally the same, but other than that, this production seems unable to make me engage in the characters in the way that the original did.

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Jean Irving August 24, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Wish I had read this review before I spent full price for the August 22 matinee at the Orpheum in San Francisco. Beware! This is not your beloved Phantom but a cheap, fiery staging of the music with inexperienced performers. All the magic and romance has been wrung out with a menacing portrayal of the Phantom lacking any ability to believe Christine has sympathy for him or any youthful longing for his musical genius. I can’t agree that the costumes are worth the price of the tickets. The Phantom looks ridiculous in the masquerade scene in a poor imitation of a military uniform. I’ll treasure my memories of the original and warn others to avoid this production.

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Doreen Acosta September 6, 2015 at 10:34 am

This is the worst version of Phantom I have ever seen (and I have seen several).

There was obviously no chemistry between the actors, their performance was forced and jerky, there was no apparent feeling in their acting, and vocals of EVERYONE was lacking, to say the least. The sets were dark and the new back drop (round thing) limited the visuals for the audience from the side seats in the theater. Nothing of the stage set gave you the impression of the grandeur of the Paris Opera House. The direction was also very poor: Christine spends a good portion of the time on the floor; costumes seemed like a product of budget cuts; and the chandelier looked like it had recycled parts from a 1970’s bathroom. It seemed that the pyro effects were used to offset the other areas that were lacking. I came away from the performance very disappointed. My son’s girlfriend (who had never seen a performance in the past) was not impressed at all, which is a shame really. The orchestra was the only portion of the performance that was spot on. Will this sub-par performance deter me from seeing Phantom again? No, but I will read reviews before I purchase tickets next time. In conclusion I say stop the madness! Go back to the original and get some performers that actually know how to sing and act.

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Robert Walker November 13, 2015 at 5:40 pm

I too have to agree with the review. I saw the production last night in San Antonio (home of Storm Lineberger) and the show was a disappointment to say the least. I got a bad feeling when I walked into the theater and the infamous chandelier was not on the stage, but hanging from the ceiling covered in a tarp. I was very disappointed in what is supposed to be one of the more dramatic moments of the musical with the reveal of the chandelier. When it was illuminated, the pyro (fireworks) coming from the suspended prop was a major let-down as was the rest of the show. Yes, a lot of the lyrics were lost, not sure from the microphones, or simply bad projection from the performers. Could not understand any of the lyrics during “Masquerade” and the cemetery scene was a dissatisfaction to the overall production.

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Vivian Davis February 8, 2016 at 12:13 pm

I saw the show yesterday 2/7/16 at the Hippodrome in Baltimore. The understudies for Phantom (Travis Taylor) and Christine (Celia Hottenstein) were amazing!!!!! I am in love with Travis Taylor’s voice. Wonderful show overall. Bravo!

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Charity August 29, 2016 at 7:50 am

How can Christine have any chemistry with Raoul, when she is usually standing at a minimum of 6 feet away from him, even during their more intimate songs?

The blocking on this new tour production is atrocious. I didn’t mind all the little changes, but when you undermine the metaphors of the original choreography, thus destroying the layers of symbolism underscoring the story, you have a problem.

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