Last night, July 25, the new touring production of "The Phantom of the Opera" continued its run at the Marcus Center, where there was hardly an empty seat. The story of "The Phantom of the Opera" is known the world over, and yet Cameron Mackintosh's new production managed to create a whole new experience while still remaining true to the original plot and music. Even seasoned "Phantom" veterans will agree that this new production keeps them guessing and surprised at each change in scene.
"The Phantom of the Opera" is about a French opera house's newest prima donna, Christine Daaé, and her tutor- an Opera Ghost who both defines and terrorizes the theater. As Christine becomes the leading lady of the opera house, she finds herself hypnotized by The Phantom's music and darker side despite his physical deformity and her love for childhood friend, Raoul. Drama moves beyond this love triangle, however, as the theater's new owners ignore The Phantom's demands for running the theater and soon all performers, executives, and audience members come to know the Opera Ghost and his sinister capabilities.
This all-new production includes a large cast, and it follows that the choices for The Phantom and Christine are key in engaging audiences and honoring Andrew Lloyd Webber's beloved songs. Cooper Grodin and Julia Udine are indisputably perfect fits for their roles. Udine epitomizes the frightened, torn Christine who develops throughout the plot while claiming several of the epic songs with both a power and delicacy that is a rare, yet required find for this role. Her performance in "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" is particularly moving while the character's emotions during the pivotal moment translate well to the audience.
Grodin is similarly a fantastic fit for The Phantom. There are a couple of physically static moments disconnecting the emotion in his voice from his body, but overall he embodies the role very well. His voice, like the Phantom's, is hypnotic whether he captures the mysterious, sinister qualities with a raspy whisper or takes your breath away with delicate hushed notes in "The Music of the Night" or demands your attention with the power of his voice alongside Udine in the iconic "The Phantom of the Opera" sequence.
In a production such as this, it's difficult to create the combination of musical theater and opera, and while some minor characters lean towards the musical theater side of the vocal spectrum, the main cast excel at translating operatic voices in a musical theater setting. Cast members, particularly the Firmin/André (Brad Oscar and Edward Staudenmayer) and Carlotta/Piangi (Jacquelynne Fontaine and Frank Viveros) duos, also bring in a good deal of comedy in an otherwise dramatic tale.
One minor change in this production that might hinder those new to "The Phantom of the Opera" is Christine and Raoul's connection. While Ben Jacoby (Raoul) has an excellent voice and stage presence, his character lacks a certain level of sensitivity in favor of powerful vocals (in "All I Ask of You", for instance) and his budding romance with Christine isn't fully conveyed. These factors might make Raoul less believable as a match for Christine to the more noviced or skeptical audience members. To the less skeptical or veteran audience members, their background is implied and Jacoby's powerful voice and charisma compensate the lack of background and sensitivity.
Even with a cast comprised of incredibly talented triple threats, it's hard not to leave the theater talking endlessly about the outstanding new set design. Each set is incredibly detailed and with each scene change, the audience is thrown backstage or down to the Phantom's lair or up to the rooftop before they even realize how they got there. The line between reality and stage is played with as even the conductor is involved in the stage action and the audience's perspective is constantly altered.
One particularly mystifying and extraordinarily innovative set piece functions to house several different sets while never compromising a single prop or detail. Each scene change shocks and amazes the audience as they try to guess how they'll be transported to the next scene. The masterpiece of the production is found in "The Phantom of the Opera" sequence where The Phantom and Christine sing a captivating duet on their way to the Phantom's secret underground lair. Incredible vocals combined with innovative and surprising scene movement make this scene the epitome of the awe-inspiring, magical spirit of "The Phantom of the Opera" that one feels privileged to witness.
Regardless of your familiarity with "The Phantom of the Opera", Mackintosh's new production is one you need to see for yourself. One truly never knows what to expect from a production like this, which makes it all the more exhilarating even if you know the story inside and out. "The Phantom of the Opera" runs at the Marcus Center now through August 3. Tickets are available online or by calling 414-273-7206.