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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


The Phantom of the Opera
Broward Center for the Performing Arts


Cooper Grodin and Julia Udine
Bank of America presents the touring production of Cameron Mackintosh's new The Phantom of the Opera in Au-Rene Theatre at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Based on the 1910 French novel "Le Fantôme de l'Opéra" by Gaston Leroux, the musical features music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Charles Hart, and a book by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber, with additional lyrics from Richard Stilgoe.

Phantom of the Opera opened in London's West End in 1986, winning the 1986 Olivier Award for Best Musical. It opened on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre on January 9, 1988. The production received seven Tony Awards and seven Drama Desk Awards. It continues to play at the Majestic, where it became the first Broadway musical in history to surpass 10,000 performances in February of 2012. On January 26, 2013, the production celebrated its 25th anniversary performance. It is the longest-running show in Broadway history.

The tour of The Phantom of the Opera provides stunning scenic design, which, through the incorporation of video projection, achieves the quality of a movie in some scenes. The graveyard scene is indeed picture perfection. Costuming is exquisite. The details of the ornate, period dresses worn by Carlotta (Jacquelynne Fontaine) show a true love and knowledge of costuming, and the actress wears them beautifully as well. While the music is played well, the orchestra seems light in the string section and there could have been a more ominous and authentic sounding pipe organ. Though dancing isn't normally a chief aspect of this show, true to the time period, operas were laced with ballet performances. So we are provided the diversion of lead male dancers accompanied by talented ballerinas en pointe. The ballet chorus provides the source of our ingenue Christine Daae (Julia Udine).

As Christine, Julia Udine has a sweet, understated appeal, but needs to raise the stakes of her character as there is urgency lacking in her performance. She demonstrates she is capable of achieving this in a beautifully sung and acted "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" in the second act, which is her finest moment in the show. Unfortunately all that emotion is directed toward her deceased father who has no part in the show, so, though it serves to define her character, it doesn't connect her to the rest of the cast.

There is no real on-stage passion between Christine and Raoul (Ben Jacoby), so his character, which is admittedly weakly written, remains a tad bland. One must work a bit harder to make Raoul more than a callow male ingenue. Jacoby doesn't really bring anything of interest to the role. He is overshadowed by strong performances by Brad Oscar as Firmin and Edward Staudenmayer as Andre. They clearly establish their characters and their relationships to each another. There is an ease to their scenes which is very important, as those scenes summarize and propel the story. While both actors have polished voices, more importantly, one forgets they are singing because they are acting through the lyrics so well.

Jacquelynne Fontaine is perfection as Carlotta. Her voice in a demanding role is, and she completely captures the presentational style of the operas within the show. Her glorious voice paired with a beautiful face and figure may make her difficult to dislike. Fortunately, she attacks the role with just enough Maria Callas style opera diva to make us prefer Christine over Carlotta. She is well paired with Frank Viveros as her opera leading man, Piangi. He gets most of the buffoonish humor in this role, and has a god lyric sound, but suffered from a microphone that was too soft on the night attended. The fact that the mic was not fixed during the show was an injustice to a role that requires some difficult singing.

The performance of Cooper Grodin as The Phantom is disappointing. There is nothing eerie or fearsome about his Phantom, and does not truly achieve that poignant moment in which the Phantom becomes pitiable. In fact, he is more handsome and virile than Jacoby as Raoul. I've never seen the roles cast that way physically, and it weakens them both. In addition, Grodin has a less polished voice than some of the supporting characters around him, and seems inclined to a more contemporary romantic sound. While Madame Giry clearly speaks of him as a man she saw many years ago that only she still recalls, Grodin looks and acts like he is in his mid-twenties, complete with a bit of a swagger when he walks that doesn't work for the role.

This production of The Phantom of the Opera is brilliant on many levels, and the show itself will always remain a classic that people will clamor to see. The public also has the right to expect certain things from the show and its cast that need to be tweaked in this production. Some of this can be solved through better direction, but at this point in a national tour things tend to remain unchanged.

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has received three Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards, an Oscar, an International Emmy, a Golden Globe Award, six Olivier Awards, and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2006. His works include thirteen musicals, two film scores, one song cycle, a set of variations, and a Latin Requiem Mass. He is best known for the musicals The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Sunset Boulevard, Aspects of Love, Cats, Starlight Express and Song and Dance.

The Phantom of the Opera will be appearing through November 30, 2014, in the Au-Rene Theatre of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts is located in the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District at 201 SW Fifth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, FL. For tickets or other information, contact them by phone at 954-462-0222 or online at www.browardcenter.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.thephantomoftheopera.com/ustour/.

The Broward Center for the Performing Arts houses the Au-Rene Theater, the Amaturo Theatre, and the Abdo New River Room, and has affiliated venues at the Parker Playhouse, the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center, and the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center. Presentations at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts are sponsored in part by the State of Florida, the Department of State, the Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Support is also contributed by the Broward Performing Arts Foundation, Inc... The Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment Consortium is a cultural partnership between the Performing Arts Center Authority, the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Florida Grand Opera, Fort Lauderdale Historical Society and The Historic Stranahan House Museum. It is supported by the Broward County Board of County Commissioners as recommended by the Broward Cultural Council and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Visitors Bureau.

Current/upcoming Broadway Across America productions include Beautiful, Million Dollar Quartet and Pippin. Past productions include Bullets Over Broadway, Hairspray, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Memphis, Promises, Promises and The Producers.

Cast:
The Phantom of the Opera: Cooper Grodin
Christine Daae: Julia Udine
Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny: Ben Jacoby
Carlotta Giudicelli: Jacquelynne Fontaine
Monsieur Firmin: Brad Oscar
Monsieur Andre: Edward Staudenmayer
Madame Giry: Anne Kanengeiser
Ubaldo Piangi: Frank Viveros
Meg Giry: Meg Cowling
Auctioneer: Mark Emerson
Porter: Eric Ruiz
Jeweler(Il Muto)/Passarino: Edward Juvier
Monsieur LeFévre/Firechief: Jay Lusteck
Monsieur Reyer: David Foley, Jr.
Joseph Buquet: Allan Snyder
Wardrobe Mistress: Christy Morton
Princess (Hannibal): Celia Hottenstein
Princess (Hannibal): Grace Morgan
Wild Woman (Hannibal): Kathryn McCreary
Slave Master (Hannibal): Ted Keener
Madame Firmin/Confidante (Il Muto): Lindsay O'Neil
Hairdresser (Il Muto): Merritt David Janes
Don Attilio (il Muto): Quinto Ott
Policeman in Pit: Nick Cartell
The Ballet Chorus of the Opera Populaire: Morgan Cowling, Anjelica Bette Fellini, Ramona Kelley, Abigail Mentzer, Lily Rose Peck, Micki Weiner

Crew:
Director: Laurence Connor
Music Director: Richard Carsey
Choreographer: Scott Ambler
Scenic Design: Paul Brown
Video & Projection Design: Nina Dunn for Knifedge
Lighting Design: Paule Constable
Sound Design: Mick Potter
Costume Design: Maria Bjornson

The Actors and Stage Managers employed in this production are members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the united States.


Photo: Matthew Murphy


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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