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