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The Phantom of the Opera | The Fabulous Fox Theatre

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I have to be honest, that was one of the two times I got both teary-eyed and a case of the goose bumps.

 

Book by Richard Stilgoe & Andrew Lloyd Webber
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Charles Hart
Directed by Harold Prince

The Fabulous Fox Theatre brings Broadway's longest-running musical, The Phantom of the Opera, to St. Louis. The legendary musical, based on the novel of the same name by French author Gaston Leroux, kicks off the first act with an auction of the physical contents of the Opera Populaire that has been closed down for some time. With a dramatic raising of the prominent chandelier, the story goes back in time to when the opera house was teeming with music and colorful performers. As the new owners of the opera company survey their latest purchase, they persuade the local diva, Carlotta Giudicelli (Kim Stengel) to perform an aria from the company's latest production of Hannibal. During her performance, the songbird is nearly struck by a falling backdrop and refuses to proceed.

The local performers inform the new owners how this act of sabotage is the work of the opera ghost. It is then that the new owners learn the rules: always leave the Phantom's box empty and make sure to pay him on time. Disregarding both of the warnings, the new owners are told that a chorus girl, Christine Daaé (Marie Danvers), is good enough to step in and take over the lead. After some coaxing, the new owners agree and Christine is cast in the lead role. Back in her dressing room, Christine reveals to her friend Meg Giry (Joelle Gates) that her talent and success is due in part to being coached by the "Angel of Music." This is when we learn of Christine's secret relationship with the Phantom.

During one of her performances, one of Christine's childhood suitors, Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Adam Monley), recognizes her and begins to try and rekindle the relationship they once had-much to the angst of the Phantom. Realizing that Christine's emotions are in jeopardy, the Phantom raises the stakes by revealing himself, whisking her away to his underground lair.

The rest of the first act deals with the new owners continuing to ignore the Phantom's requests, a series of mishaps due to the ignored requests, and the Phantom ultimately having to fulfill his threats to prove his word.

The second act mainly focuses on the love triangle involving the Phantom, Christine, and Raoul. Christine, who is torn between two lovers, runs to her father's grave to seek peace of mind so she can make the right decision. While at her father's grave, Christine and Raoul are discovered in a lover's embrace by the Phantom, who once again whisks Christine to his underground lair and tries to force her to become his bride. The rest of the story deals with the rapidly rising emotional stakes and the Phantom's hold over Christine.

Starring in the lead role as the Phantom of the Opera was John Cudia. Vocally, Cudia was impressive as he tackled some of the bigger number in the show with terrific amounts of passion. There is a line in the song "The Music of the Night" in which the Phantom sings, "Let your soul take you were you long to be," holding the last note for an extended period of time. I have to be honest, that was one of the two times I got both teary-eyed and a case of the goose bumps. Cudia did a decent enough job for the rest of the production, making sure to hit all the necessary emotional high points that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart built into their music.

Danvers was enjoyable in the role of Christine, giving a solid vocal performance. She was the cause of my second set of tears and goosebumps as she and Monley, in the role of Raoul, gave a knockout performance with "All I Ask of You."

Technically, the show stumbled with cheesy special effects and the typical sound problems. I was told the show had been technically updated, which made me wonder how bad the special effects had been in previous productions. For example, at the end of Act One, the opera's chandelier is supposed to come crashing down to the stage. I was not only unimpressed by the speed of its descent, but even lees impressed when it landed without a whimper, let alone any glass-shattering sound effects. The sequence came off as clumsy and anti-climatic.

Additionally, there was a scene in which the Phantom finds Raoul comforting Christine at her father's grave. He threatens them both with a cane that shoots off random roman candle fireworks. I began to wonder if the production was trying to be campy. Notwithstanding these minor stumbles, I must say that the scenes involving the Phantom and Christine going down to his underground lair were well-constructed and beautiful to behold.

Despite the production gaffs, the fact remains that The Phantom of the Opera is a musical that benefits from a stellar score and a beautifully written love story. There is a reason this has been the longest running show on Broadway: The story is heartwarming and engrossing. Fortunately, the production's problems can be easily overlooked thanks to the cast turning in some impressive vocal performances.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre presents The Phantom of the Opera through July 1, 2006. For ticket prices and times, please visit www.fabulousfox.com.

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