“The Phantom of the Opera,” by far Broadway’s longest-running show, has been in continuous production and touring for over 30 years, seen by well over 100 million people. When producer Cameron Mackintosh launched a revision, it was met with trepidation by the show’s die-hard fans.
Designed for touring, Mackintosh’s “Spectacular New Production” (as the program announces) is a lavish affair that brings Broadway-level spectacle to regional theaters. For first-timers as well as longtime fans, this production is well worth seeing.
The visuals — sets, costumes, props, lighting — take advantage of technological advances to create stunning effects. In addition to “Phantom’s” iconic 1-ton chandelier, its “wow” factor includes massive set pieces, opulent costumes, explosions, pyrotechnics and magic.
“THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA”
>> Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
>> When: Showtimes vary, through Sept. 1
>> Cost: $40 to $150
>> Info: ticketmaster.com
The show opens with the confused detritus of an abandoned backstage, with scattered spotlights piercing the gloom and highlighting a cobwebbed scrim. Within minutes, the story crashes into technicolor flashback to retell the story of the Phantom through his signature magic of smoke, mirrors and masks.
Mirrors have become a key symbol throughout, as well as the focus for the song “Masquerade.” Sets are dominated by a 5-ton, multisided rotating centerpiece (a periaktos) that includes a dollhouse-style, pop-open office on one side for the farcical characters and a towering staircase on another, its stairs emerging slowly into light as the Phantom leads Christine into his subterranean lair.
Scenes in somber grays and blacks are juxtaposed against lush, gold-trimmed reds, contrasting drab reality with the richer worlds of theater, memory and passion.
Lighting throughout is nuanced and delightfully effective: Note the emerging colors at dawn, shifting brightness of backdrops for mood changes and characterizations through spotlights.
Most importantly, Mackintosh’s new production has shifted focus: The Phantom is less sleek, less elegantly mysterious than before, and more human, rough-hewn, crazier. He is an inventor, composer, magician, genius (a stand-in perhaps for composer Andrew Lloyd Webber), but he is also a tortured soul, an outcast who was never loved and cannot love, who instead manipulates and kills. He is a beast who dreams of beauty.
In this production, the Phantom’s love affair with Christine is unsettling, even dangerous, making it more challenging for her to see the humanity behind his disfigured face. The story has intensified its exploration of who we are inside compared to how we are seen by the world:
“Hide your face so the world will never find you,
“Every face a different shade,
“Look around, there’s another mask behind you.”
That down-to-earth grittiness drives the storyline, breathing new excitement into a familiar plot.
The strength of “The Phantom of the Opera” hinges on its love-triangle leads: Christine, excellently sung by Emma Grimsley, whose high, clear soprano carries many scenes, emerges as the strongest character when the three men in her life (her father, the Phantom and her lover Raoul) each try to own her but fail to protect her.
Derrick Davis is an outstanding Phantom, especially in his final scenes, which are absolutely riveting: Davis does crazy like no other. And Jordan Craig delivers a sympathetic Raoul but needs a richer, more passionate tone of voice to be an effective rival to the dramatic Phantom.
A major change in this production is the scene for “Point of No Return,” in which the Phantom seduces/kidnaps Christine onstage, right in front of the clueless Raoul. In the original, it was idealized, with Christine falling innocently under the Phantom’s power and removing his mask almost out of curiosity.
In the new production, Christine intentionally seduces the Phantom and removes his mask in an act of betrayal. Fans will be arguing about Christine’s role for a long time.
The orchestra is excellent, and although the ensembles and chorus could have used some cleaning and balancing at Friday night’s performance, the music is as wonderful as ever, including that famous, rising/falling, 5-note chromatic motif.
Those familiar with theater history will enjoy the musical commentary poking fun at opera and the period theatrical effects, such as unfurling backdrops and a fakey 18th-century-style prop elephant blinking its eye. Each and every comic moment lands with good effect.
There is something for everyone in this production, and the joy of it lies not in comparing old and new but in the experience itself, which is thrilling.