The Phantom of the Opera | The Fabulous Fox Theatre

The-Phantom-of-the-Opera 75The surround sound that hauntingly broadcasts the whispers of the Phantom will encompass and chill every audience member.

 

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Nearly directly above my head hung Lot 666. Up for auction as The Phantom of the Opera opens, this item is a chandelier notoriously associated with a series of incidents that occurred at the Opéra Populaire in 1881. 666 is commonly known as the number of Satan, or the Beast. However, the managers of the Opéra Populaire in 1881 hadn’t dealt with a beast, or demon, per say. Rather, a Phantom. Upon purchase at the auction, the chandelier is lowered, illuminating as it sparks and begins to smoke. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous, foreboding score begins and the audience is thrust back to the past in order to witness the reign of the Phantom for themselves.

Before seeing this show—and even now after having finally had the chance to enjoy it live—I knew it would be difficult to critique. According to the Facts & Figures sheet that accompanies this tour, The Phantom of the Opera “has grossed over $890 million on Broadway,” “has won more than 70 major theater awards,” and  as “the first stage production to reach worldwide grosses of $6 billion, (its) revenues far surpass the world’s highest grossing film, Avatar (at $2.8 billion).” These, I might add, are only a few of the extremely impressive statistics associated with this musical. Critiquing Phantom is like critiquing The Lion King or Cats—it has beyond proven itself as the perfect package of incredible music, characterization, plot, and visuals. There are a few minor critical points to make about this new tour (the fourth to travel through the U.S.), but overall this production will continue to entrance new and old fans alike.

It is certainly worth noting that this production is technically considered a new version of this long-running show. Producer Cameron Mackintosh felt Phantom needed a new look, “one that would do more to contrast the Phantom’s darker backstage world with that of the traditional opera world onstage,” according to an article by Mackintosh himself entitled “A New Chandelier.” Utilizing the original design work of the late Maria Björnson and present day designer Paul Brown, “a new version of Phantom that uses a more visceral dramatic approach to create a visual feast”—in Mackintosh’s words—came to fruition. While I doubt that new fans will even be aware of the difference, old fans will be quite pleased. The set design is nothing short of astounding, particularly the rotating centerpiece that appears to encompass female lead Christine’s dressing room, the office of the opera house management, and the dark and dreary rear of the theater, which serves as one of the most magical aspects of the Phantom’s escape route to his dark quarters. I sat in awe as grand staging and props were continually being introduced throughout the performance. After the fact, I wasn’t surprised to learn it takes 20 trucks to move this show from city to city. The seamlessness of the scene transitions is exquisite.The-Phantom-of-the-Opera 300

The staging and props have so much personality and presence that they may themselves be considered characters but, of course, the show’s human cast does an absolutely magnificent job of bringing this theater within a theater to life! While the casting for this production will likely prove to be its most highly debated element, I for one loved the individual cast members selected, and was happy with the evident chemistry they shared. It seems to me that new casts for long-running shows are often unfairly judged on how well they perform compared to the original character portrayals, which of course is harshly unfair. A woman sitting nearby commented during intermission that she has grown up with the cast recording featuring original female lead Sarah Brightman as Christine and Michael Crawford as the Phantom, which I suspect is the case for many people in attendance. While the urge to draw positive and negative comparisons is natural, I think we as audience members must instead appreciate the way in which our new leads—Katie Travis as Christine and Chris Mann as the Phantom—make these characters their own.

Travis’ remarkable vocals are equally matched by her acting and dancing abilities, her performance raw and honest. I was fortunate enough to interview Travis before the show, and it was evident from her responses, and her performance which followed, that she whole-heartedly understands every aspect of Christine’s naïve, yet complex character. She astounds throughout, however, Scene 4: The Labyrinth Underground and Scene 5: A Graveyard in Perros will especially alleviate any audience doubt as to whether Travis is right for the role.

The Voice’s Chris Mann has the emotional range (vocally and in terms of stage performance) that the Phantom requires if he is to successfully entrance his audience. To use a common phrase, Mann could sing the phone book and people would listen. In my interview with Travis, she noted that in her portrayal of Christine, she is not hypnotized by the Phantom, as the relationship has been portrayed in the past. Rather, she is guided by her own intrigue-laden decisions. As an audience member, I felt that while this may be true of Christine, I myself was quite hypnotized and entranced by Mann’s performance. He sings with such precision, methodology, and tempo that I felt myself nodding slightly along to each and every word he sang or spoke, trying to grasp each word he spoke as if I were hearing them for the first time—when, in reality, I had sang along to them many times before. My only criticism is at points Mann overacts slightly, which would be fine (as the Phantom is an emotionally dramatic, pained character) if it had not at times hindered the clarity of his dialogue or vocals. If you’re not familiar with Mann’s work, I highly recommend you search him on YouTube. His work is classical, first and foremost, reminding me of a young Josh Groban (who, thinking upon it, would also likely make a remarkable Phantom, at least vocally).

The-Phantom-of-the-Opera 2_300No individual’s performance fell short. Storm Lineberger stole my heart as Christine’s other love interest Raoul, and David Benoit and Edward Staudenmayer were charming, hilarious, and compatible as theater managers Monsieur Firmin and Monsieur André. Scene 8: The Manager’s Office is actually one of my favorite scenes of the production. It’s not only one of the most amusing scenes, but it also showcases the talent of the majority of the cast, whom are all present.

There’s still plenty of time left to purchase tickets to this show, and even if you have to sit in the very last row, it’s well worth it. This show exudes a mood that reaches every corner and crevice of the theatre, and the surround sound that hauntingly broadcasts the whispers of the Phantom will encompass and chill every audience member. | Megan Washausen

The Phantom of the Opera runs at The Fabulous Fox Theatre through March 15. For ticket information, please visit http://www.fabulousfox.com/.

To read my interview with Phantom’s Christine, Katie Travis, visit http://www.playbackstl.com/art-interviews/13821-talking-with-katie-travis-about-the-phantom-of-the-opera-

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