The new production of The Phantom of the Opera

I went to the premiere of the new production of The Phantom of the Opera, which started its US tour in Chicago. I was really looking forward to this new production, especially how it would be compared to the 25th Anniversary performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Of course, it is not a completely fair comparison, since the anniversary performance was so much larger in scale. I really enjoyed the performance, although I had mixed feelings about some of the changes (as can be expected).

Sets

Because this was a new production, I was expecting incorporation of a lot of technology, more intricate sets, brighter lighting, more color….something that reflects that it designed in the 2000s and not the 1990s. Mechanically, this may be true, but the general feel of the set design, however, seemed to have gone backward in time- in fact, it looked more like a set design of an older era- in terms of aesthetics. I had mixed feelings about this. It seemed truer to what the opera would have looked like at the time, but as the architectural details (of the Paris Opera House) were not really quite technically correct, there were some missed opportunities.

The pros: The middle of the stage sometimes incorporated a citadel-like structure that very cleverly rotated to reveal smaller rooms and Phantom’s lair. By far this structure was the most clever new element of the set design and served as a much better option when “climbing down” into the Phantom’s lair than a steel catwalk.

Screenshot from trailer

Screenshot from trailer

This structure also allowed the audience to see the front stage and back stage of the opera at the same time– which was useful when portraying the death of Buquet. The managers’ office was also a very nice addition, where a small “room” opened up like a puzzle. Similarly, Christine’s dressing room was also a small “room” which was like a beautiful Degas painting when first unveiled, with all of the ballet girls gathered there.

The new, gorgeous Managers' Office

The new, gorgeous Managers’ Office

The cons: The Phantom’s lair was by far the most disappointing, lacking in candles, and looking more like a cool cocktail bar with an awkward fake tree than an evil lair. The chandelier’s heart was a “white” light (LED?) that was not very flattering and period inappropriate. The masquerade scene used tall mirrors as the backdrop, which was nice, but there was no grand staircase, which made the entry of the Phantom as Red Death less dramatic.

Masquerade scene from screenshot of trailer

Masquerade scene from screenshot of trailer

The rooftop and cemetery scenes were very drab and a huge missed opportunity. Perhaps adding snow to the cemetery scene would help.

Casting

In general, the actors were very good, by which I mean singing in tune and from the belly- unlike some of the terrible singing in the movie version. I saw the version with Cooper Grodin as the Phantom, who brought a very passionate, sexy, youthful aspect to the role. His voice was beautiful but perhaps too youthful for the character- the Phantom (at least according to the book) is considerably older. For those who really don’t know the book, however, I’m sure this young Phantom was perfectly fine. I would like to see him sing the role again in 10 years. (He was not as sinister or crazy as I would have liked- but that is my personal preference.) Ben Jacoby as the Raoul gave one of the best performances of the character I had ever seen- a very pleasant surprise considering his experience. He also has a youthful, amazing voice, which actually suits the character very very well. I would not be surprised if this tour really takes his career to the next level.

Both actresses playing Christine (Julia Udine) and Carlotta (Jacquelynne Fontaine) had crystalline, angelic voices that made my heart soar. Unfortunately, this was actually not so great in terms of the contrast between the two characters- Carlotta was too beautiful, too youthful, and too good of a singer. Not that Carlotta needs to be ugly or old, but she needs to fall short in at least one of the these three qualities because the character does not seem as ridiculous as she ought to be. As for Christine, I don’t know if this is a choreographing aspect, plain chemistry, or an acting issue, (I sense it is more about the choreography) but her connection with Raoul was not very strong, especially in the most important duet. The kissing at the end of the scene didn’t really make up for the awkward pacing back and forth of the scene in general. I think Julia Udine sings better than Sierra Boggess, but the acting seems a little less mature, which I’m sure will improve as the tour progresses.

Unfortunate Changes:

The elephant in the Hannibal scene is a two-dimensional piece board with huge, comical eyes. Unless this was supposed to add to the comedy of the scene, it was just-weird. Many people laughed at the elephant.

Carlotta’s version of Think of Me is way too long.

The musical box with the monkey: The monkey is no longer on top of the box!

The “fun” costumes in masquerade are mostly gone.

The Phantom’s Red Death costume is completely different, and he is not wearing the terrifying skull mask.

The Phantom's red death costume was a joke. The original was so much better and truer to the book.

The Phantom’s red death costume was a joke. The original was so much better and truer to the book.

The wedding dress that Christine comes a little out of nowhere, as the dummy that the Phantom kept in his lair was taken out of the story. The wedding veil was also taken out of the production, which may be confusing to first-time viewers because the white dress doesn’t seem like a wedding dress.

When Christine returns the ring, this takes place behind the Phantom’s back, so he discovers this later. I personally liked previous version where she returns it to him in person and weeps. Of course, both of these versions are different from the book,where Erik (the Phantom) asks Christine to put the ring on him when he dies.

In the final scene, there is no “throne” so Meg is holding up the Phantom’s cloak somewhat awkwardly before she unveils that he has disappeared.

Here is a link to the trailer video- the actors are different from the production I saw, though.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHDO_3CufQ0#t=25

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13 responses to “The new production of The Phantom of the Opera

  1. –And yet the show continues and gets good reviews from critics and has added cities.
    I don’t understand it.

    Sally

    • That’s probs because these critics are awed by all the new special effects and have no understanding of the substance that the show SHOULD project. They don’t get what the Phantom is all about at its core.

  2. We attended Phantom today in Seattle (May 2 2015). This is our third time to Phantom, but first to this new production. “Disappointment” is the excat word I came away with. You hit it right on the head – the roof top, cemetery, masquerade ball, labyrinth, all huge let downs!

    The Ball has nothing short of a fizzle. The costumes and masks looked as if they might have been made by volenteers for a jr high school play. The Phantom’s enter was a complete dud. He just sort of walkes out of a mirrored door, way in the back of the set.

    I didn’t like the descending stairs to the labyrinth. It did not give the actor time enough to sing so they both would take a step, then pause, take anther and pause….very awkward. The boat ride was equally diminished and lacked sizzle.

    The Phantom’s chamber looked like a two bit hooker joint – bed with purple satin sheets, gold bedspreads, and too many throw pillows. And the bed, not the organ as the center of focus. And what was up with the organ??? It looked like a folding table with a modern keyboard sitting on top.

    The pace of the show was slow and lacked purposeful moment. In the grave yard Raul stands sheepishly by and watched the Phantom and Christine interact. Then when he finally confront the Phantom it’s like, what took you so long and why did you just stand there for several minutes. The same awkward blocking took place in the labyrinth when the Phantom confronted Raul. It appeared none of the actors really had a good feel for what to do, or how to move about the set so they all just stand there looking awkward.

    Nothing about this new production is grand or spectacular. It was all very vanilla and ordinary. Very disappointing.

  3. I completely agree!! I saw the new production tonight and was EXTREMELY disappointed at all the blocking and staging tweaks to many of the scenes. My major issues were thus:

    – the chandelier does not rise from the stage in the beginning
    – Christine shares an untidy dressing room with the rest of the ballet dancers??
    – the Phantom just lays Christine down in the bed and then she just falls asleep at the end of Music of the Night (I’m sorry, but if you were in her shoes would you really be able to fall asleep so nonchalantly??)
    – Christine doesn’t even take off the Phantom’s mask the next morning?? This makes me question why he’s so mad…because it really was his fault for having his face uncovered while she was there…something I don’t believe he would have EVER dared do for fear she might see him
    – Buquet’s death is not as striking since it is shown on the sidelines…I found it more effective when he drops from overhead and scares the living bejesus out of everyone!
    – I disliked that the staircase was gone from Masquerade, as were many of the original carnival-type costumes
    – I completely HATED the Phantom’s outfit in Masquerade…the skull headpiece he used to wear was so much more menacing; this new outfit he wears is just a poor remake of the movie version
    – Did Raoul just get away with actually **punching** the Phantom??? –gasp– (also a nod to the movie methinks)
    – the Phantom acts too freaked out while Christine is kissing and hugging him in the Lair scene, like he doesn’t even enjoy it, and then he pulls away like he’s trying his damnedest to get away from her as quickly as possible; this just screws up their whole dynamic
    – Christine comes back after the Phantom lets them go and just places the ring he gave her on his organ without him even seeing her… I really liked in the old production when they saw each other at the end and he sings “Christine, I love you” as she hands him back the ring; this is completely missing now :-(
    – What is up with Meg holding onto the Phantom in his cloak while everyone is closing in on him…and then POOF he’s gone?? The thing where he disappears on the throne was so much better…

    So, yeah, those are just a few of the issues I had with the new production. I definitely didn’t like it as much as the original and will probably never go see this version again. Maybe if the original production comes back though… ;-)

    • I certainly agree with most of what you say. I was disappointed with the staging and blocking in many of the scenes.
      I think that they have pretty much ruined the “Music of the Night” scene. It isn’t heart-stopping seductive and is really kind of silly in some places.

      I hated the Phantom’s little red movie-style uniform and the fact that he just walks in from the back as “Red Death.” Little red-clad soldier would be more like it. I DID, however, like the mirrored ballroom.

      His just strolling in from the back in the graveyard scene is also less than effective.

      I don’t have the problem you do with Christine’s sharing a dressing room. She wasn’t a star until after she sings in the show, and one of the ballet girls wouldn’t have a big dressing room to herself.

      I never found the Buquet dummy dropping down from the flies very effective.
      What I REALLY dislike about the show is that they have taken away almost all the mystery, power, and near magic of the Phantom in the original production. That was done deliberately. They want to make the show more “realistic.”
      Bleah

    • I agree with your observations and disappointment. The new chandelier not only looked like some weird underwhelming ufo but it didn’t rise at the begging nor crash to the ground. It would have been better to have left it out altogether than use it as they did.

  4. Good review!
    I saw the tour show on January 21 with the same cast members.
    I too was not all that impressed with the new “realistic” sets that most of the professional reviewers seemed to like but WAS impressed with the music—both the singers and the orchestra.

    My mind kept making comparisons between the tour show the original Hal Prince production, which I’ve seen several times, rather than the 25th Anniversary version.
    Although enjoyed a lot of the new production, my general feeling was that…something was missing. I’m not sure what.

    Like you, I didn’t care much for how the Final Lair was done, AND I wasn’t sure just what happened at the very end, and why it happened.

    Here’s a link to my report/review (It’s a long one!).

    http://macanuni.livejournal.com/

    • I really like your review! I also agree that the set design of the Hal Prince production left more for the imagination.
      I think the main thing that disappointed me with this new production was a lack of a visual ‘wow’ factor. I absolutely agree with the “tackiness” that you mentioned.

      • Thanks!
        The professional reviewers for the most part thought that the sets were just fine—although Chris Jones, the best (in my opinion) critic in the Chicago area, said,

        “Brown shows you more of the Opera House, but, somehow, Bjornson made you see the old joint more clearly in your mind. It’s harder to work the more complicated way. But that’s the assignment this most famous of commercial musicals now has set for itself”.

      • Interesting….I would disagree that Brown shows more of the Opera House..the rooftop did not look like the Opera House rooftop at all, as well as the masquerade scene…Perhaps professional reviewers are somewhat pressured into being more positive than negative.

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