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Review: Glitches aside, ‘Phantom’ shines

Sunday, June 1, 2014
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Crews prepare the infamous chandelier for the Phantom of the Opera performance at Proctors on Thursday, May 29, 2014.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
Crews prepare the infamous chandelier for the Phantom of the Opera performance at Proctors on Thursday, May 29, 2014.

— “This was my fifth ‘Phantom,’ ” said partner Mark on the way home from Friday night’s performance, “two in Toronto, one at Proctors about six years ago and one on Broadway.”

Despite hefty ticket prices, this Andrew Lloyd Webber blockbuster (based on a 1909 novel by Gaston LeRoux) has become repeated must-see musical entertainment for many, and with repeated visits come comparisons. The new touring production, which ends in October 2015 in San Francisco, has made its way to Proctors for a run that ends June 8.

It’s still a technical wonder. The huge set pieces glide on and off and crack open with nary a screech, the chandelier startles, the pyrotechnics flash on cue and the creepy little monkey music box is, nevertheless, something you’d like to take home.

The operatic voices throughout the large company are superb, and when Cooper Grodin as The Phantom, Julia Udine as Christine and Ben Jacoby as Raoul tackle such staples as “The Music of the Night,” “All I Ask of You” and “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” you’re satisfyingly caught up in the musical melodrama of it all.

You’re also reminded of Webber’s delight in operatic conventions — the self-important tenor, Piangi, and the demanding diva, Carlotta, dished out by the amusing Frank Viveros and Jacquelynne Fontaine, respectively; the spooky ballet mistress, Madame Giry (Linda Balgord), who movingly gives us The Phantom’s back story in Act II; theatrical superstitions; snippets of Mozartean and bel canto operas; and the theater managers (Edward Staudenmayer and Brad Oscar), whose eye on the financial bottom line prevent them from looking up for falling sandbags—The Phantom’s calling card.

I like, too, Webber’s insertion of two septets. A favorite device of 19th century opera composers, these ensembles reveal each character’s thoughts simultaneously, and when done right, the technique is thrilling.

Here, however, the best efforts of the talented cast to be understood are thwarted by the loud orchestra, a problem that also plagues the trio in the graveyard. Solo numbers are better served by conductor Richard Carsey and the musicians, who ably illuminate many of David Cullen and Webber’s inspired orchestral touches.

Dramatically, this production, under the direction of Laurence Connor, is variably satisfying. The big scenes have snap and a sense of purpose: interactions crackle, despite an ever-present feeling of doom (even in the bright “Masquerade”). In more intimate moments, Udine and Jacoby aren’t afraid of the big, stock gesture to go along with their big voices. But there isn’t a lot of tension in the staging of the graveyard scene or, most distressingly, in The Phantom’s Lair, early and late. Udine and Grodin wander, while Jacoby hangs from the wall. And Grodin is, for me, too diffident a Phantom, a guy with flesh wounds rather than deep scars. The Phantom’s grotesque makeup at play’s end energizes Grodin with more menace than he has elsewhere, a plus that only reminds us of missed opportunities.

This production will give first-time “Phantom”-goers a chance to see what all the hoopla has been about for 28 years, and true “Phantom” fans will have more to talk about when they compare it to other treatments they’ve seen.

 
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