Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
What accounts for Phantom's endurance? You might want to see the current tour, billed as a "spectacular new production" to seeand hearfor yourself. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart's score continues to thrill, with swooping themes worthy of the most depraved grand guignol, heartfelt love songs, comical patter numbers, faux opera pieces, a precious charm song ("Think of Me"), a waltz ("Prima Donna"), and, in "Masquerade," a muscular anthem. By my count, there are eleven discrete songs, as well as several variations of their melodies used as underscoring and recitative in this largely sung-through show.
In the touring production, the music is played by a fourteen-member orchestra directed by Jamie Johns that sounds fantastic, and if this were merely a concert presentation of the score, that would be sufficient reason to purchase a ticket. Of course, there is much more than the music, although love of music and its power to seize our emotions is one of the themes of the narrative.
Based on the Gaston Leroux novel published in 1910, the story is a dark love triangle between the ingenue opera singer Christine Daaé, whose deceased father, a renowned violinist, promised her that after he passed from this life he would send an angel of music to look over her; Raoul, a wealthy vicomte who shared a youthful romance with Christine and, after hearing her glorious voice at the opera, is determined to win her back; and the Phantom, a genius but hideously deformed from birth, and thus driven to hide in an underground lair beneath the opera house. Unseen, the Phantom trains Christine, drawing forth her dazzling soprano, which launches her to a prominent role in the opera. She believes him to be the "angel of music" her father promised, and cannot deny him, even when he reveals himself and his obsessive love for her.
The tale is fleshed out with business concerning new co-owners of the opera company who scoff at the threats from the so-called "Opéra Ghost"; Madame Giry, the stern ballet mistress, always dressed in black, who has been with the opera a very long time, long enough to have knowledge of the menacing Phantom; and Carlotta, a vain and high-strung diva who, along with her oafish leading man, drive the new owners to distraction. The latter pair provide some comic relief during what is otherwise a tense thrill ride of a show, meant to alternately provide shivers of suspense and strike awe with the splendor of the sets, costumes and stage effects.
Among those effects is the chandelier that famously falls from the lofty ceiling of the opera house as a means of showing the Phantom's extreme displeasure with turns of events. The chandelier has been made grander than ever (according to promotional materials), and new sets, designed by Paul Brown, and staging by director Laurence Connor create an even larger-scale spectacle than those who have seen previous productions are accustomed to. Indeed, the sets are magnificent, in particular a rotating stone subterranean tower that leads, by way of vanishing steps, to an underground lake, and from there, the Phantom's lair.
All of this is lit to draw out every morsel of dramatic nuance by Paule Constable. The costumes are the original award-winning designs of the late Maria Bjòrnson, as resplendent in detail as ever, with gowns that are the stuff of Disney princess dreams on steroids. This production also introduces new choreography by Scott Ambler, which embellishes the several opera-within-a-musical scenes, gracefully brought to life by the Ballet Chorus of the Opera, along with the elegantly staged "Masquerade" ball.
The voice of Christine Daaé must be truly extraordinary to convince us that this innocent singer has been trained by the Phantom, with his access to dark arts, exacting demands, and an unquenchable drive to create beauty, in contrast to the ugliness he inhabits. Emma Grimsley has such a voice. She sings beautifully throughout the show, giving an especially poignant performances of "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" and her soaring duet with Raoul, "All I Ask of You." Grimsley not only sings, but acts the role of Christine with complete persuasion, torn as Christine is by her compulsion to follow her supposed "Angel of Music" and her desire for the sheltering love offered by Raoul.
Derrick Davis is suitably menacing as the Phantom, and brings a passionate voice to the chilling title song, conveys his yearning in "the Music of the Night" and reveals his desperation in "The Point of No Return." He conveys the darkness that has infested his heart and his hopes that he might be redeemed if he can win Christine. As Raoul, Jordan Craig likewise sings with full, ardent tones. His boldness in plotting to entrap the Phantom once and for all is well played, but he does not as fully display the conviction of his love for Christine, and there is an absence of palpable chemistry between the two lovers. This is a lapse in the production, but easily covered over by the grandeur of the music and surroundings, which provide a full serving of passion.
Trista Moldovan is appropriately haughty and demanding as Carlotta, and brings the right tone of a diva's voice to her part, and Phumzile Sojola is well cast as her fawning leading man Ubaldo Piangi. Susan Moniz is darkly foreboding as Madame Giry, who can command the entire opera company's attention with a single pounding of her staff. Her spirited daughter Meg is played with zeal by SarahGrace Mariani. As the opera managers, David Benoit and Rob Lindley are a winsome pair, coping with the absurd demands of the "Opéra Ghost" and Carlotta's temper. The octet of actors on "Prima Donna" harmonize beautifully in this impassioned waltz. All of the players work well in their roles, and sound splendid in the choral works, in particular "Masquerade."
For all its pomp, its splendor, its extravagance and unbounded beauty, The Phantom of the Opera does not rank among my favorite shows. While the music is intoxicating and there is much to amaze the eyes, the story is somewhat shallow, and there are holes in the plotsuch as how did the Phantom nurture all of his talents and acquire so many skills, including the ability to cast bolts of fire from the tips of his fingers, if he lived a life of confinement and isolation? Of course, this is a fantasya dark oneso we cannot ask for logic or cause-effect, but the result is that none of the characters draw us in or prompt within us any emotional investment. The show is a visual encyclopedia of stagecraft, but is less attentive to the humanity encased within it. At the end, I am impressed but not moved by this musical.
Still, The Phantom of the Opera is a truly iconic work of musical theater, and this production brings out all of its considerable merits. If you have seen it and love it, nothing I have to say will make a difference, and you likely already have your tickets. If you have never seen it, Phantom will be a worthy addition to your list of musical theater experiences. Like that crashing chandelier, it demands our attention.
The Phantom of the Opera runs through December 1, 2019, at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $50.00 - $146.00. For ticket information, including availability of student and educator rush tickets, call 800-982-2787 or visit hennepintheatretrust.org. For more information on the tour, visit ustour.thephantomoftheopera.com.
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics: Charles Hart; Additional Lyrics: Richard Stilgoe; Book: Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the novel "Le Fantôme de l'Opéra" by Gaston Leroux; Director: Laurence Connor; Choreography: Scott Ambler; Set Design: Paul Brown; Costume Design: Maria Björnson; Lighting Design: Paule Constable; Sound Design: Mick Potter; Video & Projection Design: Nina Dunn for Knifedge; Orchestrations: David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber; Musical Director: Rebekah Bruce Parker; Music Supervision: John Rigby; U.S. Music Supervisor: James Lowe; Casting: Tara Rubin Casting, Merri Sugarman CSA; Associate Director: Seth Sklar-Heyn; Associate Choreographer: Nina Goldman; Production Overseen by Matthew Bourne and Cameron Mackintosh.
Cast: David Benoit (Monsieur Firmin), Stephen Mitchell Brown (Jeweler in "Il Muto/Passarino), Jenna Burns (Princess in "Hannibal), Jordon Craig (Raoul Vicomte de Chagny), Derrick Davis (The Phantom of the Opera), Kaitlyn Davis (Princess in "Hannibal"/Christine Daaé at certain performances), Mark Emerson (Auctioneer), David Foley, Jr. (Monsieur Reyer), Emma Grimsley (Christine Daaé), Siri Howard (Nov. 20 Nov. 24: Madame Firmin/Confidante in "Il Muto"), Rob Lindley (Monsieur André), Michael Maliakel (Porter), SarahGrace Mariani (Meg Giry), Kathryn McCreary (Wild Woman in "Hannibal"), Trista Moldovan (Carlotta Giudicelli), Susan Moniz (Madame Giry), Shane Ohmer (Slave Master in "Hannibal"), Quinto Ott (Don Attilio in "Il Muto"), Herb Porter (Policeman in the Pit), Nicholas Ranauro (Slave Master in "Hannibal"), Phumzile Sojola (Ubaldo Piangi), Travis Taylor (Hairdresser in "Il Muto"), Stephen Tewksbury (Monsieur LeFévere/Firechief), Carmen Vass (Howard (Nov. 26 Dec. 1: Madame Firmin/Confidante in "Il Muto"), Victor Wallace (Joseph Buquet), Marguerite Willbanks (Wardrobe Mistress).
The Ballet Chorus of the Opera: McKenna Birmingham, Daniela Filippone, Charlotte Hovey, Jordan Lombardi, Austin Sora, and Tara Sweeny.