Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


The Phantom of the Opera
National Tour
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Jeanie's reviews of A Chorus Line, Savage Wealth and Cabaret and Patrick's review of Detroit '67


Quentin Oliver Lee and Eva Tavares
Photo by Matthew Murphy
It's easy to understand why The Phantom of the Opera is Broadway's longest-running show, having played more than 12,500 performances at New York's Majestic Theatre, pulling in a billion-plus in ticket sales. The show is filled with soaring ballads, spectacular staging, a story that doesn't make too many demands of its audience (you could step out of the theater for pretty much any 20-minute stretch of the show and not lose the narrative thread), not to mention opulent costumes, pyrotechnics and, of course, the famous chandelier.

Like Chekov's gun ("One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off." he wrote), Broadway's most notable lighting fixture figures prominently early in the first act, and then makes good on its promise of a reappearance.

But the show is more than its chandelier, and if intensely wrought melodrama is your thing, you're going to love the new touring production which recently started its run at SHN's Orpheum Theatre. If you've seen the show before and are a fan, you owe it to yourself to experience the sumptuous new staging Cameron Mackintosh and his team have created, which more boldly contrasts the underground lair of the Phantom with the flashy, theatrical onstage world of the Paris Opera.

There aren't many shows that fit perfectly into the commodious confines of the Orpheum, but this is definitely one of them. Like the theater it inhabits, the scale of this production is massive at every level. Even the costumes, with enormous tiered skirts and bold patterns simultaneously clashing and complementing, are practically architectural in their ambition.

They almost have to be, given the monumental mass of the staging, which features giant rotating curved walls and gilded proscenium and opera boxes and brobdingnagian statuary and a gorgeous snow effect—and seemingly 20 other different scenes, all realized with an intent to thrill and dazzle.

And then you've got Andrew Lloyd Webber's mountain of a score (with lyrics by Charles Hart), featuring some of his most challenging music. The vocal range, the modulations, the complex harmonies—it all matches with the melodramatic story and operatic milieu, but it also places tremendous demands on the performers. Fortunately, the producers of this revival have found a cast that is more than equal to the task.

Every man who steps up to play the Phantom will ultimately be compared to Michael Crawford, who originated the role in London, won the Olivier, then reprised the role on Broadway and took home the Tony. Those are big shoes to fill, but Quentin Oliver Lee acquits himself nicely. His baritone register is gorgeously resonant—when he hits his bottom notes you feel the vibrations deep in your bones. In full voice, his pitch is rock solid, but in some of the breathier, higher register moments he loses some of the gravitas that is so important to the role.

As Christine Daaé, Eva Tavares has a clear, bright soprano with a youthful freshness that feels just right for the role. Christine is an ingénue, working to find her place in the world of opera, and Tavares embodies her naiveté perfectly.

The rest of the cast do a lovely job supporting the leads. Kristine Dale Sanders brings a fitting imperiousness to the role of Madame Giry, the dance mistress/choreographer, who serves as a sort of go-between for the Phantom and the rest of the world. David Benoit, playing Monsieur Firmin adds a much-needed comic—but never clownish—touch to the story.

The Phantom of the Opera has long been one of the most over-the-top opulent, dazzling, astonishing theatricals ever to hit Broadway—and this road version is no downsized reproduction, but a massive, marvelous restaging of a much-beloved classic of musical theatre.

The Phantom of the Opera plays through September 30, 2018, at SHN's Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco CA. Tickets range from $81-$256, and are available by calling the box office at 888-746-1799 or by visiting SHNSF.com.


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