Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Phantom’ still is a fantastical experience

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Phantom’ still is a fantastical experience

The new take on the megahit is mostly cosmetic.

PHOTO: The Phantom (Cooper Grodin) leads the love of his life (Julia Udine) to his lair in the new-look production of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Production photo

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – You get dressed every day. Chances are, you wear something different from one day to the next. You’re the same person. You just look a bit different today than yesterday. That’s somewhat what has happened with the megahit “The Phantom of the Opera.” In the new touring production playing at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center through June 22, the music and the story are the same as always, but the show has different clothes (set design and effects) than yesterday. The show still is a fascinating experience of exotic sights and lush music, but the look is somewhat different.

This happens all the time on the theater scene as a play is produced by different companies in different places over time. William Shakespeare’s plays have been done a kazillion ways in 400 years. This “The Phantom of the Opera” stands apart because the original producer – Cameron Mackintosh, a phenomenon of our time – has re-visited and visually re-tooled one of his FAMOUS productions after 25 years. Why? Because he could, wanted to and did.

Is this production of “The Phantom of the Opera” any better or worse than the previous take? Not really. The ending has changed in a way. An epilogue has vanished. But unless you saw the first version, you wouldn’t miss it. As you walk out the door, you know you’ve seen something other – the story of a nutso genius who terrorizes the opulent Paris Opera and an innocent starlet, while along the way you’ve gotten a heavy dose of grand opera without quite realizing it because what takes place is so sweeping and involving. Also, without quite realizing it, you’ve heard a show with a fairly decent size orchestra playing LIVE. Makes a difference.

Performers have to be good to get into “The Phantom of the Opera” – it’s one of Cameron Mackintosh’s personal babies – so the touring cast is racked and ready. Cooper Grodin is the explosive Phantom, Julia Undine the sweet and torn Christine, Ben Jacoby the heroic Raoul and Jacquelynne Fontaine as the deposed diva who still has a gun for a voice.

Many people’s triggers are tripped by the big, romantic numbers (“All I Ask of You,” “Angel of Music”) or the outsized “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Masquerade,” but I continue to marvel at the complexities of the musical arguing among the owners of the opera house and its stars over loaded letters from The Phantom. So many voices cranking at once, each with a different take. Only opera/music theater can do that well.

Some scenes are eyefuls – “Masquerade” with its mirrors, lavish costumes and masks and the stories-in-the-story surrounding productions of “Hannibal” and “Don Juan.”

The set work is filled with new elements. A revolving set piece is central. Among other places, it becomes the entry to The Phantom’s lair, the front of the opera stage, the back of the opera stage, the offices of the opera building, the roof of the opera house, the cemetery where Christine’s father is buried, etc. Major, awesome effect: As The Phantom and Christine progress toward the lair, steps appear from hiding before them. Less of an effect: The chandelier still falls in one scene, though in not as quite a scary way at the PAC as other productions I’ve seen. The set design finds new ways to use pyrotechnics (fire) and a new way to off an offending stage hand. The statuary in the rooftop scene includes a view seldom seen in a mainstream production – frontal male nudity (though dimly lighted). 

“The Phantom of the Opera” remains an event. Many people who have seen it before are seeing it again, bringing their children or grandchildren. It’s a generational thing. This may not be grandma’s “Phantom,” but it still certainly is “The Phantom of the Opera,” the spellbinder.

***

Creative: Music – Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics – Charles Hart, with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe; Book – Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber; Based on the novel “Le Fantome de l’Opera” by Gaston Leroux; Director – Laurence Connor; Set design – Paul Brown; Costume design – Maria Bjornson; Choreography – Scott Ambler; Producer – Cameron Mackintosh.

Cast: The Phantom of the Opera - Cooper Grodin; Christine Daaé - Julia Udine; Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny - Ben Jacoby; Carlotta Guidicelli - Jacquelynne Fontaine; Monsieur Firmin - Brad Oscar (6/11-6/19); Monsieur Firmin - Michael Thomas Holmes (6/20-6/21); Monsieur Firmin - Jay Lusteck (6/22); Monsieur André - Edward Staudenmayer; Madame Giry - Linda Balgord; Ubaldo Piangi – Frank Viveros; Meg Giry - Hannah Florence (6/11-6/15); Meg Giry - Tara Sweeney (6/17-6/19); Meg Giry - Morgan Cowling (6/20-6/22); Auctioneer - Mark Emerson; Porter - Eric Ruiz; Jeweler (Il Muto)/Passarino - Edward Juvier; Monsieur LeFévre/Firechief - Jay Lusteck (6/11-6/21); Monsieur LeFévre/Firechief - Dan Debenport (6/22); Monsieur Reyer - Michael Thomas Holmes (6/11-6/19); Monsieur Reyer - Dan Debenport (6/20-6/22); Joseph Buquet - Allan Snyder; Wardrobe Mistress - Christy Morton; Princess (Hannibal) - Celia Hottenstein; Princess (Hannibal) - Grace Morgan; Wild Woman (Hannibal) - Kathryn McCreary; Slave Master (Hannibal) - Dustin Layton/Luke Lazzaro; Madame Firmin/Confidante (Il Muto) - Lindsay O’Neil; Hairdresser (Il Muto) - Merritt David Janes; Don Attilio (Il Muto) - Quinto Ott; Policeman in pit - Nick Cartell; The Ballet Chorus of the Opera Populaire - Morgan Cowling, Anjelica Bette Fellini, Ramona Kelley, Abigail Mentzer, Lily Rose Peck, Micki Weiner; Swings - Adam Bashian, Dan Debenport, Amy Decker, Christopher M. Howard, Alexandra Pernice, Tara Sweeney, Marguerite Willbanks; Dance Captain - Tara Sweeney; Assistant Dance Captain - Christopher M. Howard.

Songs

Act I

“Think of Me,” Carlotta, Christine, Raoul

“Angel of Music,” Christine, Meg

“Little Lotte”/“The Mirror” (“Angel of Music),” Raoul, Christine, The Phantom

“The Phantom of the Opera,” The Phantom, Christine

“The Music of the Night,” The Phantom

“I Remember”/“Stranger Than You Dreamt It,” Christine, The Phantom

“Magical Lasso,” Buquet, Meg, Madame Giry, Ballet Girls

“Notes”/“Prima Donna,” Firmin, André, Raoul, Carlotta, Piangi, Madame Giry, Meg, The Phantom

“Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh,” Carlotta, Company

“Why Have You Brought Me Here?”/“Raoul, I’ve Been There,” Raoul, Christine

“All I Ask of You,” Raoul, Christine

“All I Ask of You” (Reprise), The Phantom

Act II

“Masquerade”/ “Why So Silent?” Full Company

“Notes”/“Twisted Every Way,” André, Firmin, Carlotta, Piangi, Raoul, Christine, Madame Giry, The Phantom

“Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” Christine

“Wandering Child”/“Bravo, Bravo,” The Phantom, Christine, Raoul

“The Point of No Return,” The Phantom, Christine

“Down Once More”/“Track Down This Murderer,” Full Company

***

VENUE: Thrivent Financial Hall is the main theater of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on College Avenue in downtown Appleton. The capacity is 2,072. The seating area is in the shape of a horse shoe, with three balconies following the shape. The stage is 60 feet across and 40 feet high. The décor features Veneciano plaster walls with dark-stained cherry wood. In the oval dome ceiling is a 65-foot long chandelier that is reminiscent of the Art Deco era. The design includes ruby inserts in the opaque cream-colored glass. Flowing along the walls up to the chandelier are parallel metal pipes as if of a musical instrument. Flat walls in the front third of the hall are salmon colored, while red pleated theatrical curtains dominate the rest of the side walls. The white acoustic wing over the stage looks like the underside of a sci-fi spacecraft. The lobby area consists of lots of geometrics, glass and, on the ground level, a feeling of openness and spaciousness. The exterior of the gray building features gentle curves. A large glass skylight is reminiscent of a human eye.

THE NAME: Thrivent Financial has roots in a life insurance company that was chartered in 1902 as Aid Association for Lutherans, based in Appleton. The corporate name has been Thrivent since 2002.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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