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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ formidable as ever in Appleton

Critic At Large

Fox Cities Performing Arts Center

The Phantom (Derrick Davis) and singer Christine Daaé make their way down curving steps to The Phantom’s lair in the touring production of “The Phantom of the Opera.” (Matthew Murphy)

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV)

“The Phantom of the Opera” is … whew, that’s a rather large blank to fill in. But here we go:

… A super-size musical that is making a return appearance for a hefty 16-performance run to Dec. 15 in Thrivent Financial Hall of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center to Dec. 15.

… Still running in its city of origin, London, and in the American mecca of theater, New York City, having started easily a generation ago in the latter part of last century, 1986 and 1988, respectively.

… A combination of “out-there” story (A) and beautiful, surging, powerhouse music (B) and bold staging (C).

  • (A) A disfigured genius of science and the arts hides in the bowels of the Paris Opera House, taking a kind of ownership of what is presented on stage. He is smitten with the voice of the lovely Christine Daaé, a pupil who is from the ballet corps.
  • (B) Along with driving the story forward in complex patterns, Andrew Lloyd Webber creates lush and/or tense romantic solos and duets that are standing the test of time. The template may be musical theater, but a whole lot of operatic elements are woven in.
  • (C) Technical marvels abound. Returning audiences will see differences from past productions – and can argue good? better? best? Audiences new to “The Phantom of the Opera” are seeing such key elements as these:

+ A chandelier above the audience that does such unusual things as create fog and a sparking, popping burst at the mention of its presence in the prologue. The Phantom uses the chandelier as a threat that he follows through on.

+ Round set pieces that revolve. This is a major change from the past. Songs are sung, acting happens and scenes appear on and in a round contraption. At times, the scene is an exterior; notable is the dark, foggy and scary sequence in which The Phantom leads Christine to his “apartment” below the opera house, progressing downward as individual movable steps appear one by one from the curved wall. Often, the contraption opens to such spaces as Christine’s dressing room, the business office of the opera house, a courtyard, a graveyard where Christine’s father is buried and an ornate and mirrored hall in which the showcase “Masquerade” is played out.

+ Pyro touches. The chandelier sparks, the angered Phantom tosses sparky, smoky “bombs,” fire bursts from spots along the stage front and, all by itself, a stand-up piano plays while flames shoot from candlesticks atop it.

+ Sound touches. Included are the powerful throb of an organ, the impossible high note that Christine reaches seemingly at the will of The Phantom and how The Phantom seems to be in all corners of the performance hall as his voice is heard seconds apart.

+ Visual touches. Costuming pops, notably of the aging diva Carlotta and in the company in “Masquerade.” Mirrors play major roles – though they are magical theatrical mirrors that reflect and un-reflect upon need. Silhouettes in motion come into play as the knowing Madame Giry tells the story of The Phantom’s awful life of abuse.

… Is riveted together by layers of romance. The Phantom considers himself an angel of music who not only will bring Christine to performance greatness, but she will love him and bring him comfort from his loneliness. But Raoul, an old friend of Christine, visits and overwhelms her with adoration and expressions of love, and she soon loves him back. As goes with such triangles, this one generates dangers.

… Is performed in this touring production by an appealing cast, led by that love trio. As The Phantom, Derrick Davis pours on the intensity and dynamism of the part, making sure his t’s, c’s and k’s are especially expressed. Davis captures the larger-than-life ingredients of the role, fueled by a strong and limber voice. As Christine, Emma Grimsley moves smoothly in the ballet element of the role and sings brightly and warmly and particularly tenderly in “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” the song to her father. As Raoul, Jordan Craig acts and sings convincingly as a headstrong yet caring man in love and willing to do anything for the sake of his beloved Christine. Supporting roles are keenly played and colorfully sung all around.

… Is full of attention-holding complexities – as if it were a kaleidoscope of story and music unfolding. Scenes with multiple players are verbal weavings of words, song and story. Notable are the snotty and/or threatening notes from The Phantom that members of the operatic company receive and divulge.

… Continues as big-time imagination. Andrew Lloyd Webber and his creative collaborators (a key one being gifted producer Cameron Mackintosh) dress the main musical story with scenes from three operas of Webber’s creation. The story of Don Juan is the climactic one, with The Phantom in disguise playing cat-and-mouse on stage with Christina as a sensual character.

… Has legs, as folks in theater say. It is extremely difficult to create one show that will attract thousands of people once. “The Phantom of the Opera” has been doing it for years and years. In Appleton, the production adheres to an essential – quality control.

***

Running time: Two hours, 32 minutes

Remaining performances: 1 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 8; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10-13; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14; and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 15

Info: foxcitiespac.com

Creative: Based on the novel “Le Fantôme de L’Opéra” by Gaston Leroux, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart (with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe), book by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber, orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber; producer – Cameron Mackintosh; director Laurence Connor; choreographer – Scott Ambler; set designer – Paul Brown; costume designer – Maria Björnson, lighting designer – Paule Constable; sound designer – Mick Potter; musical supervision – John Rigby

Cast:

Phantom – Derrick Davis 

will portray the man behind the mask, ‘The Phantom,’ with Emma Grimsley as ‘

Christine Daaé – Emma Grimsley

Raoul – Jordan Craig

Carlotta Giudicelli – Trista Moldovan

Monsieur Firmin – David Benoit 

Monsieur André – Rob Lindley

Madame Giry – Susan Moniz

Ubaldo Piangi – Phumzile Sojola

Meg Giry – SarahGrace Mariani 

Auctioneer – Mark Emerson

Porter – Michael Maliakel

Monsieur LeFévfre/Firechief – Stephen Tewksbury

Monsieur Reyer – David Foley Jr.

Joseph Buquet – Victor Wallace (Dec. 4-12, 14-15); Dan Debenport (Dec. 13)

Wardrobe Mistress – Marguerite Willbanks

Princess (“Hannibal”) – Jenna Burns

Princess (“Hannibal”) – Kaitlyn Davis

Wild Woman (“Hannibal”) – Kathryn McCreary

Slave Master (“Hannibal”) – Shane Ohmer, Nicholas Ranauro, Adryan Moorfield

Madame Firmin/Confidante (“Il Muto”) – Carmen Vass

Jeweler (“Il Muto”)/Passarino – Stephen Mitchell Brown (Dec. 4-7, 10-15); Edward Juvier (Dec. 8)

Hairdresser (“Il Muto”) – Travis Taylor

Don Attilio (“Il Muto”) – Quinto Ott

Policeman in Pit – Herb Porter

The Ballet Chorus of the Opera Populaire – McKenna Birmingham, Daniela Filippone, Charlotte Hovey, Jordan Lombardi, Abigail Mentzer, Austin Sora and Tara Sweeney

Swings – Danielle Dalli, Dan Debenport, Siri Howard, Edward Juvier, Adryan Moorefield, Lily Rose Peck, Jill Van Velzer, Micki Weiner

Dance Captain – Lily Rose Peck

Assistant Dance Captain – Shane Ohmer

Orchestra: Director – Jamie Johns; associate music director – Timothy Splain; violin – Garry Ianco; keyboards – Elaine Davidson, Michael Duff, Hosun Moon. Local musicians: reed 1 – Linda Nielsen Korducki; reed 2 – Marc Jimos; reed III – Rich Tengowski; reed IV – Carol Rosing; French horn – Bruce Atwell; violin II – Yuliya Smead; cello – Katie Decker; bass – Mark Urness; local orchestra coordinator – Melissa Gurholt

***

Musical selections

Prologue

Stage of the Paris Opera House 1911 – Auctioneer, Raoul, Company

Overture – Orchestra

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, Madame Giry, Meg, Ballet Girls

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

“Il muto/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

Entr’acte – Orchestra

“Masquerade” – Andre, Firmin, Company

“Why So Silent?” – The Phantom

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

“Don Juan Triumphant Rehearsal” – Christine, Piangi, Reyer, Carlotta, Madame Giry, Ensemble

“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” – Company

“Finale” – Christine, The Phantom, Raoul, Company

***

THE 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.

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