Monday, June 20, 2016

Reimagined Phantom of the Opera impressive at the State Theatre, but . .

It’s been seen by over 140-million people in 30 countries and 151 cities.  It’s been translated into 14 languages.  It’s Broadway’s longest running show. What is it?   Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, which is now on stage at the State Theatre, in a reimagined form. 

The present touring version has a new set, staging, choreography and costumes.   There are new special effects, including computer generated graphics, fire bolts (much like the scoreboard at The Q for Cavs games).   Even some of the characterizations and the emotional level have been altered.

Be assured, however, that in spite of the changes, the well-known story line and the sumptuous music remain intact.

The tale takes place in the Paris Opera House more than a century ago, centering on a  disfigured musical genius who is obsessed with a talented member of the chorus, who he trains to be the leading lady in his new musical, with dire consequences.

And, yes, the sounds of “Think of Me,” “Angel of Music,” “The Music of the Night,” “All I Ask of You,” and ”Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” fill every nook and cranny of the theatre.

The changes have resulted in a staging which appears smaller and less impressive. This, in spite of the cast and orchestra of 52, making it one of the largest productions now on tour.

Though still opulent, this Phantom doesn’t appear to be as “grande” as the original.   The always anticipated chandelier crashing to the stage has been replaced by an unspectacular vertical drop of the large fixture straight down above the heads of the audience seated in the first ten or so rows.  There were sound pops and lighting sparks, but the effect was disappointing, thus no screams of terror or ducking from the people seated in the expensive seats. 

Some will consider the elimination of the crashing chandelier parallel to doing Miss Saigon without the requisite helicopter, Wish You Were Here minus the real swimming pool or American Psycho without a blood splatter zone.

Director Laurence Connor has decided to go with a youthful Phantom, more realism, some less exaggerated characterizations of some roles, and a large cylinder on a turntable placed stage center, which makes for smooth transitions, and enhances the journey of Christine and the Phantom into the bowels of the Paris opera house, but takes away some of the eerie darkness of the original set. 

In other words, the menace of the Phantom is watered down.   This may well have been Connor’s intent as his version places more stress on the intimacy of Christine and Raoul, which adds to the conflict of the romantic triangle.   This version also  stresses the romantic realism of the story, down-pedaling some of the spectacle and melodrama.  

One can only wonder if this less grandiose, reserved, story-line clearer version had been the original, would the show have achieved its level of greatness?   My guess…probably not.

As for this cast, Chris Mann, best known for being a finalist on NBC-TV’s “The Voice,” has a fine Billboard voice.  It does not translate into the powerful Broadway sound needed for The Phantom.  Nor does he have the physical and emotional power to transform a mere human into a maniacally obsessed, bigger-than-life menace.   He definitely is not in the same class as Michael Crawford (the original Broadway Phantom), Mark Jacoby, or Thomas James O’Leary, who also performed the role.  (The part, in this touring edition, is exchanged between four actors, so attendees may see a different Phantom then was on stage opening night.)

Katie Travis has the looks and voice for Christine, but she, like Mann, doesn’t exude the necessary hyper-emotional level.  Hers is a good, but not great interpretation of the role.  (Three actresses trade off the part.)

There are local connections between the cast and this area.  Price Waldman (Monsieur André) was an Oberlin attendee,  Stephen Mitchell Brown (Jeweler) won a Cleveland Critics Circle Best Actor award for his portrayal of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, and Kathryn McCreary (Wild Woman) is a College of Wooster and Ohio State grad.

Cleveland native and Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre grad, Trista Moldovan, won raves for her portrayal of Christine on Broadway several years ago. 

The orchestra was full and lush, as befits the score, but sometimes, the lack of sound balance caused lyrics and words to be drowned out.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Phantom of the Opera newbies will undoubtedly be wowed by the reconfigured production.  Those who have seen the Broadway, or one of the early touring company editions, may be less impressed. 

Tickets for The Phantom of the Opera, which runs through July 10, 2016 at the State Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to