Sunday, November 19, 2017

Review of "The Phantom of the Opera"

The national tour of The Phantom of the Opera, playing at the majestic Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT, is a extravagant triumph. The production is big with an impressive scenic design and immersive orchestral sound.  The venue itself, with its grand marble staircases, ornate interior and sumptuous drapery, is the ideal theatrical setting for the musical, which is set in the opulent Paris Opera House.

When the show opened on Broadway in 1986 it was part of the British invasion of sweeping, over-the-top musicals with a signature set piece that included 1980’s Les Miserables (the barricade) and Miss Saigon (the helicopter), from the early 1990’s.  Phantom, of course, has The Chandelier.  These shows were criticized, at the time, for their scale, but their grandeur and magnitude added a lavishness, which has all but vanished from the musical stage.  In this production, however, the richness and immensity are stunning and at times breath-taking, making the show a truly spectacular event.

This look is exemplified in Paul Brown’s set designs.  There are towering pieces that recreate the gold gilded glamor of the Opera House, an imposingly massive backstage tower, a mirrored ballroom, and the Phantom’s underground lair.  Paule Constable’s lighting and Mick Potter’s sound design give both an atmospheric eeriness and luster to the production.  Maria Bjornson’s costumes still look fresh and luxuriant.

The special effects and pyrotechnics add a menacing aspect to the production.  Fire leaps from the stage, stairs ominously appear from nowhere, and then there is the chandelier which I actually found to be one of the lesser effects of the musical.

The book of the show, adapted by Richard Stilgoe and Lord Webber from the Gaston Leroux novel, Le Fantome de l’Opera, is part love story and part horror story.  It centers on Christine Daae, a young singer who is thrust into the limelight after diva Carlotta Giudicelli walks off a production at the famed Opera House.  The young soprano has been secretly and mysteriously tutored by a shadowy figure who has big plans for his pupil.  At the same time, the man known as the Phantom, a disfigured musical genius, threatens the management of the theater with tragic consequences if they do not obey his demands for his protégée and the operation of the theater.  Into the fray enters Raoul, the theater’s new patron.  He knew Christine when the two were young and now yearns for her love.  The Phantom, obsessively jealous, has other plans.  Christine is both put off and enamored with the ghostlike persona.  A back and forth with all protagonists produces a thrilling series of events where love ultimately wins out.

The score, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics, mostly, by Charles Hart, melds Broadway styled songs with more operatic influenced melodies.  The musical contains such iconic numbers as the title song, “Think of Me,” “The Music of the Night,” and the Act II opener, “Masquerade.”  They are presented by a sizeable orchestra, augmented by local musicians, whose sound is beautifully enhanced by the flawless acoustics of the theater.

The entire cast is outstanding, possessing powerful and rapturous voices that resonant magnificently throughout The Palace.  The notable cast members are led by Derrick Davis as the Phantom.  He has a striking presence on stage and brings a multi-layered interpretation to the role.  We are repulsed and seduced by his performance.  He is horrific, arrogant, but also pitiable.  Kaitlyn Davis, stepping into the role of Christine in place of the laid up Emma Grimsley, is marvelous, with a brilliant singing voice and stage presence.  You would never know this petite actress was the understudy.  Bravo.  Jordan Craig is a dashing Raoul, the love interest of Christine.  There is not as much depth in his role—more the bounding hero constantly rescuing his imperiled beau.   Trista Moldovan is wonderfully feisty, contemptuous, and haughty as the displaced diva Carlotta.  She adds a delicious impetuosity to the mix of characters.

Director Laurence Connor has kept this substantial multi-faceted production humming.  Even though the musical has been on the road for a couple of years it remains crisp and lively.  The show is like a well-oiled machine, running seamlessly on all cylinders.  Even for such a large production, the director is still able to elicit a certain amount of humanity from the characters, especially the Phantom.

The Phantom of the Opera, an iconic show not to be missed, playing at The Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT through November 26th.

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