It is highly likely that most readers of this review have seen The Phantom of the Opera at least once and are quite familiar with the score and production, having played in London, New York, and on tour since the mid-1980s. Making its third appearance in Cincinnati, the current national tour continues to satisfy audiences, in large part to a wonderful performance in the title role.
The Phantom of the Opera is of course 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.
The score boasts music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe. Although Webber 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 creates beautiful melodies and Phantom is no exception. The lyrics are, if not exceptional, always suitable and acceptable. Songs such as "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 also leaves a number of holes for the audience to fill in. The orchestrations by David Cullen and Lloyd Webber are lush and attractive, but the synthesized sounds apparent in a few spots, including the title song, are distracting and at odds with the arrangements. The large pit orchestra for this tour is capably conducted by Glenn Langdon.
In the title role, Ted Keegan is exceptional in every way. His singing is strong, detailed, and beautiful, and he convincingly portrays the various emotions of this tortured creature. The Phantom is both genius and madman, both romantic lover and crazed murderer, and Mr. Keegan captures all facets of the character solidly. As his love interest and pupil, Rebecca Pitcher sings the role well and conveys the innocence and apprehension of Christine clearly. John Cudia acts and sings Raoul professionally and suitably. In the role of the opera diva Carlotta, Julie Schmidt displays a wonderful voice and nails the obnoxious tones of the role well. However, her voice sometimes lacks the annoying bite required for the prima donna and therefore reduces the desired contrast to that of Christine. David Cryer and D.C. Anderson, as Monsieur Firmin and Monsieur Andre respectively, provide broad interpretations of the opera managers, exaggerating the comedic aspects to good effect. Patti Davidson-Gorbea, Heather McFadden, and Ray Gabbard do well in other supporting roles. A talented and versatile chorus is also to be commended. The only criticism of the cast is that a number of the main supporting performers should be careful to use clearer diction at times.
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 some of his best. 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 by Maria Bjornson. The lighting by Andrew Bridge and sound by Martin Levan are likewise inventive and potent. Gillian Lynne provides adequate choreography to the benefit of the show.
The Phantom of the Opera is a beautifully designed and directed musical and contains melodic and memorable songs and a gripping story. The current national tour as seen at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati, Ohio boasts a strong cast, especially Ted Keegan as the Phantom. The show continues through October 13, 2001.
-- Scott Cain