Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
After a decade of mostly flying under the radar in the New York theater scene, Andrew Lloyd Webber has several reasons to be in the spotlight again. After two of his last three shows failed to transfer from London (and the one that did, By Jeeves, flopped), his new musical, The Woman in White, just opened on Broadway, albeit to decidedly mixed reviews. Of greater attention, however, is the fact that Webber's musical The Phantom of the Opera will soon surpass another one of his shows, Cats, as the longest running show in Broadway history. When this event takes place on January 9, 2006, the show will have run a record 7,486 performances since its opening almost 18 years ago. With this looming accomplishment, as well as the renewed attention to the piece due to last year's film adaptation, Cincinnati audiences are no doubt excited about hosting the national tour of The Phantom of the Opera, its fourth visit to our city.
The Phantom of the Opera is the story of the mysterious figure that haunts the Paris Opera House circa 1881. He tutors the young chorus girl Christine Daae and attempts to win her love, but is foiled when Christine falls for 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 for Phantom. Although the composer surely has his critics, and has often been accused of stealing from many classical composers (as well as himself), there is little doubt that he provides beautiful melodies for his shows, and Phantom is no exception. The lyrics are, if not exceptional, suitable and acceptable. Songs from the show including "Music of the Night," "All I Ask of You", and the title number are beloved by millions around the world.
The book for Phantom is credited to Lloyd Webber and Stilgoe. Their take on the classic story effectively mixes romance, drama, comedy, and suspense, but is short on character development. The orchestrations by David Cullen and Lloyd Webber are lush and attractive, but the synthesized sounds apparent in a few spots, especially the title song, are distracting and at odds with the other arrangements. The large pit orchestra for this tour is capably conducted by Glenn Langdon.
Gary Mauer's fine portrayal of the Phantom accentuates the character's tortured soul, and he sings with great clarity and emotion. As Christine, Marie Danvers is necessarily vulnerable and sings with a pleasant, clear voice which is apt for the part. John Cudia took on the role of Raoul the last time the tour came to town, and he again provides a passionate performance in this underwritten part. Effectively providing much comic relief are Kim Stengel (Carlotta), John Whitney (Piangi), David Cryer (Monsieur Firmin), and D.C. Anderson (Monsieur Andre), with the last two repeating roles as well from the last Cincinnati stop. The entire cast is to be commended for very clear diction throughout (though very few theatergoers are likely to catch many lyrics in the multi-layered "Prima Donna").
With any production of The Phantom of the Opera, it is necessary to give kudos to the show's director, Hal Prince. Mr. Prince has long been recognized as one of the masters in his field and the work in The Phantom of the Opera is one of his best efforts. Whether it is the small and subtle movements of chorus members in the background, or the staging of climatic dramatic moments, Mr. Prince's choices are fluid, stirring, and effective.
This musical is also one of the grandest in scope of design ever on a theatrical stage. With complex, ornate, and varied locations ranging from the depths of the Phantom's lair below the theater to the large opera house sets, the show is beautifully rendered based on designs by the late Maria Bjornson. Lighting by Andrew Bridge and sound by Martin Levan are likewise inventive and potent. The choreography by Gillian Lynne provides adequate choreography to the benefit of the show.
The Phantom of the Opera remains a beautifully designed and directed musical, and it contains melodic and memorable songs and a gripping story. As seen at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, this tour boasts a reliable and talented cast, and is likely to please both new and returning audiences alike. The show continues through January 1, 2006. For tickets and information, please call (513) 241-7469.-- Scott Cain