Reviews and Analyses-Page 1 of 4

Madame Halfmask's Review of the New Touring Production
of Andrew Lloyd Webber's
The Phantom of the Opera
Madame Halfmask says: DON'T MISS THIS SHOW!

  1. The Ballet Chorus, in Hannibal
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
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    The Ballet Chorus, in Hannibal Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
  2. Phantom on the Roof--"You will curse the day you did not do, all that the Phantom asked of you."
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
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    Phantom on the Roof--"You will curse the day you did not do, all that the Phantom asked of you." Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
  3. Journey to the Lair
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
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    Journey to the Lair Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
  4. Meg Giry (Morgan Cowling)
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
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    Meg Giry (Morgan Cowling) Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
  5. Hannibal (Frank Viveros) returns in triumph, but Piangi himself has trouble with the scene.
Photo Credit Matthew Murphy
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    Hannibal (Frank Viveros) returns in triumph, but Piangi himself has trouble with the scene. Photo Credit Matthew Murphy
  6. "Think of Me" - Christine triumphs at the gala while the managers watch. Photo: Matthew Murphy
L to R: Katie Travis (Christine), David Benoit (Firmin), and Edward Staudenmayer (Andre)
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    "Think of Me" - Christine triumphs at the gala while the managers watch. Photo: Matthew Murphy L to R: Katie Travis (Christine), David Benoit (Firmin), and Edward Staudenmayer (Andre)
  7. Carlotta Giudicelli (Jacquelynne Fontaine)
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
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    Carlotta Giudicelli (Jacquelynne Fontaine) Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
  8. Katie Travis (Christine) with two fans, on the left Madame Half Mask (wearing her half mask pendent), and on the right, TV and stage star Sally Struthers.
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    Katie Travis (Christine) with two fans, on the left Madame Half Mask (wearing her half mask pendent), and on the right, TV and stage star Sally Struthers.
  9. Katie Travis in 21st Century Garb
Photo Credit: Audrey Liebross
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    Katie Travis in 21st Century Garb Photo Credit: Audrey Liebross
  10. New Logo on the Marquee, Pantages Theater, Los Angeles, CA
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    New Logo on the Marquee, Pantages Theater, Los Angeles, CA
  11. Chris Mann and Katie Travis
Photo Credit: Audrey Liebross
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    Chris Mann and Katie Travis Photo Credit: Audrey Liebross
  12. The Mirror
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
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    The Mirror Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
  13. The Phantom (Chris Mann), with his new mask and hairdo.
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy
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    The Phantom (Chris Mann), with his new mask and hairdo. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy
  14. Firmin (David Benoit) and Andre (Edward Staudenmayer), the new managers
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
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    Firmin (David Benoit) and Andre (Edward Staudenmayer), the new managers Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
  15. "Masquerade," in the mirrored ballroom.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
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    "Masquerade," in the mirrored ballroom. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
  16. Madame Giry (Anne Kanengeiser)
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
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    Madame Giry (Anne Kanengeiser) Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
  17. Journey to the lair, approaching the boat
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
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    Journey to the lair, approaching the boat Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
  18. A red rose for Christine (Katie Travis) from Raoul (Storm Lineberger)
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
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    A red rose for Christine (Katie Travis) from Raoul (Storm Lineberger) Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
  19. Christine (Katie Travis) and the Phantom (Chris Mann) behind the mirror
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
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    Christine (Katie Travis) and the Phantom (Chris Mann) behind the mirror Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
  20. The tour's logo
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    The mask logo and red background for the tour

The arrows take you to the next captioned photo. Click on a picture above to see it without captions.

 
This review is an adaptation of one that Madame Halfmask's alter ego, Audrey Liebross, wrote for
Broadway World dot com. The original review is available at
  http://www.broadwayworld.com/viewcolumn.php?colid=1080482&preview=on

Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version of The Phantom of the Opera is back on tour. The music, costumes, and sets in this new production are hauntingly beautiful and most of the performances in the cast that I recently saw in Los Angeles and Costa Mesa, California are superb. The touring show, which just passed its 700th performance, is a must-see unless someone wants to experience Phantom only as it has played for almost 29 years.

This production was developed specifically for tours, and it is different – very different – from the "old" version still running in the West End and on Broadway. There is still a spectacular chandelier crash, contrary to initial rumors. Nevertheless, the production contains significant changes, both in visual appearance and in characterizations, which slightly modify the story.

Like the version that has played since 1986 in London and 1988 in New York, the tour is produced by Cameron Mackintosh and the Really Useful Theatre Company, this time with the addition of NETworks Presentations. Andrew Lloyd Webber's music, almost all of Charles Hart's and Richard Stilgoe's book and lyrics, and most of the late Maria Björnson's incredible costumes are still included. However, new choreography by Scott Ambler has replaced Gillian Lynne's, and a set by Paul Brown has replaced Ms. Björnson's.

As Gaston Leroux originally wrote it, The Phantom of the Opera was originally considered Gothic, meaning that it mixed horror with romance. Until Andrew Lloyd Webber and the team of Yeston and Kopit separately decided to emphasize the romance in their musical versions of the story, the various film incarnations leaned more towards horror. Under director Laurence Connor, the story is still largely a romance, but he emphasizes the horror aspects far more than director Harold Prince did in the original. As a result, this version is much more grim than the Harold Prince-directed original, although it increases the comedy in the Hannibal scene and the scenes involving the two hapless managers. The new orchestrations are also more spooky than David Cullen's originals.

Some actors on Broadway or in previous touring productions portrayed the Phantom as fearing the outside world, or at least unwilling to be visible to others. Mr. Connor, on the other hand, emphasizes the Phantom's anger and portrays him as more self-assured. The Phantom no longer glides in and out committing increasingly lethal acts from behind the scenes. This Phantom (played by Chris Mann, a 2012 finalist on The Voice), disguised as a stagehand, murders Joseph Buquet out in the open. He seems significantly more sophisticated, which makes him all the more terrifying. He is no longer afraid to touch Christine tenderly in the early scenes, and graduates to physical abuse.

Even though this Phantom is violent towards Christine, Katie Travis told me in an interview that Christine loves him, because she sees "all his facets." Christine's decision between Raoul and the Phantom is difficult, she says, because although the Phantom is, in her words, "picked apart by humanity," and reacts in even more shocking ways than in the original, Christine has the insight to see the good of which he is capable.

The Phantom looks a bit different in this production from Broadway and West End Phantoms, with new mask and wig designs. His costumes and prosthetic make-up are closer to those in the 2004 movie – only the right side of his face is damaged. The tragedy of this Phantom's face is, in some ways, greater than in the original. This Phantom, like Gerard Butler, can see how extraordinarily handsome he was meant to be; the face that denies him "the joys of the flesh" would probably have had the opposite effect had its right side matched its left.

The set is completely different. The chandelier no longer rises from the stage during the overture. Instead, the touring chandelier is already suspended, covered, from the ceiling as the audience files in. Even though the chandelier's initial journey is curtailed, there are nonetheless impressive special effects during the overture – effects that are more high-tech than on Broadway and in the West End. The pyrotechnics, in my view, surpass those in the original musical.

One change that has created controversy is elimination of the grand staircase that has appeared in all previous incarnations of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I found the "Masquerade" scene lacking without it, although the new mirrored set is dazzling. However, the set reduces the Phantom literally, and in my opinion, figuratively, to the same level as the revelers; he already looks less sinister because his death-head costume is gone, replaced by one similar to Gerard Butler's. Also, the absence of the animal-costumed dancers, who perform a separate routine from the main dance number, allows the dancing to become repetitive. Nevertheless, the strobe effects after the Phantom tells Christine that her voice is his – a subtle amendment of the words – add much to the already eye-catching scene. Many theatergoers are likely to prefer the new version of "Masquerade" over the old because of its visual appeal, although diehard phans such as myself will probably miss the staircase.

Another major change in the set is the elimination of the travelator, which simulates the long ramp that the Phantom and Christine use to journey to the lair during the title number. The new, higher-tech set, which no longer requires doubles for the characters, is a rounded tower with external steps that move out and back in. The effect is breathtaking, and I believe it improves on the already impressive travelator in the original.

The standout among the three lead performers, in my view, is Katie Travis as Christine Daae, whose singing and interpretation surpass those of even the most iconic Christines. Ms. Travis's version of the character, again in my opinion, evolves more dramatically than other Christines into a strong and mature woman. A change in lyrics to one verse of "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," the song she sings to her late father in the cemetery, helps emphasize the character's growth, but the real difference appears to be in Ms. Travis's and Mr. Connor's interpretation of the role, and in Ms. Travis's skill in conveying Christine's maturation.

Both Mr. Mann and Storm Lineberger (Raoul) have beautiful tenor voices. Mr. Mann demonstrates the Phantom's masculinity in "The Music of the Night"; his rendition is erotic and charismatic. Nonetheless, his and Mr. Connor's decision to have Mr. Mann "sing-speak" so many of the lines in the song diminishes the power of "The Music of the Night"; the song could have been a knockout had it employed the full measure of Mr. Mann's vocal capability.

I also disagree with the decision to portray Raoul, overall, as less bossy than in the original. This Raoul comes across as willing to help with the dishes and put the kids to bed, which I never saw in the Broadway Raouls. In my view, Raoul needs to show more of a tough side, because there has to be a reason that the police are willing to take orders from the young viscount and that Christine resents Raoul's pushing her into serving as bait to catch the Phantom, which she clearly does in this version. However, Mr. Lineberger and Mr. Connor in most scenes do not choose to play Raoul as forceful.

A major exception is in the cemetery scene. In the new production, Raoul physically defends Christine after "Wandering Child," causing literal sparks to fly. The on-stage action, which resembles the fight between Raoul and the Phantom in the 2004 movie without the swords, shows that Raoul is capable of employing violence when necessary. I'd prefer Mr. Lineberger and Mr. Connor to have chosen this more edgy characterization of Raoul throughout the show; his is only two characters that seem to have been softened for this production.

The actors playing the secondary characters all deliver top-notch performances. Jacquelynne Fontaine (Carlotta), a former Miss California, is an opera singer with a great deal of comedic ability. The character is intended to be younger than in prior versions, and Ms. Fontaine is slim, unlike many Carlottas. As in the original novel, Carlotta is still in her prime, but she stands in the way of the Phantom's plans for Christine, and he must get rid of her regardless of her vocal ability. This Carlotta is still a prima donna in the worst sense of the word, but she is younger than on Broadway, and casting her as Don Attilio's "young bride" in the fictitious opera Il Muto makes sense.

If Carlotta is slightly more sympathetic than in the original – and FAR more sympathetic than Minnie Driver's camp portrayal in the 2004 movie – Ubaldo Piangi is the opposite. Other than his difficulty in mastering the complex rhythms in Don Juan Triumphant and his inability to pronounce "Rome" in English – why a composer named "Chalumeau" is using an English libretto is one of those questions the audience must overlook – there was never any reason to believe that Signor Piangi was incompetent or immature. So what if he couldn't mount the elephant in his 52-pound costume? The man was a singer, not an athlete, and the elephant was especially tall for someone of short stature, as most Piangis are.

Christian Sebek, whom I met after a performance in New York and who is probably the best traditional Piangi I have ever seen, told me that he views his character as a dignified man. Ubaldo Piangi is also the quintessential, down-to-earth "nice guy" and a loyal friend to Carlotta. (He is apparently NOT Carlotta's lover, as in the 2004 film). The only time he says anything snarky is when he calls the new managers "amateurs," and even then, he is mainly supporting Carlotta.

The new Piangi, who is still Carlotta's loyal friend, has his nose figuratively in the air and his hand in whatever food container is handy. Frank Viveros portrays his character as an incompetent buffoon and a supercilious jerk who is constantly making faces and rolling his eyes. Mr. Viveros, who played Bloat The Blowfish in Disney’s Finding Nemo: The Musical, has a comedic background and generates lots of laughs. However, I always liked the idea of Ubaldo Piangi's being the good guy, and would prefer to see fewer scornful facial expressions and a less "in-your-face" attitude (such as when he finally pronounces "Rome" correctly and, apparently deliberately, mispronounces "home" a few seconds later). Yet, one important characteristic hasn't changed from the original: Mr. Viveros, who had no formal opera training, has an operatic tenor voice, and whatever else are Ubaldo Piangi's failings, it is easy to see how he became a (fictitious) nineteenth century opera star.

The two managers, Messrs. Firmin and Andre, played by David Benoit and Edward Staudenmayer, respectively, also sing beautifully and know how to perform comedy; at one point, Mr. Connor has them lurch around as if, in the Phantom's words, "those two fools who run my theater" have gotten thoroughly drunk. Quinto Ott, as the unnamed bass who plays Don Attilio, is a hoot in a souped-up version of the role; I'd love to see more of Don Attilio. The two Giry women, Anne Kanengeiser (Madame Giry) and Morgan Cowling (Meg); the odious Joseph Buquet (Allan Snyder, whom I saw do a brilliant job in Philadelphia as the Phantom); and the rest of the company also all give top-notch performances.

The production has numerous surprises from all members of the cast, including subtle and not-so-subtle changes that create additional mystery. One significant change occurs in the last few moments of the show, when the Phantom disappears. The set no longer includes the hollowed-out chair through which the Phantom previously escaped. (The actor would crouch inside and hand the mask to Meg to hold up at the end). Kathryn McCreary, who is a member of the ensemble and who understudies the role of Carlotta, told me that the cast is not permitted to reveal how the Phantom gets away. I have seen the touring edition three times now, and have been unable to figure it out; I guessed a trap door, but Ms. McCreary said mysteriously that the set does not have a trap door.

When the chance arises to see the touring version, in the words of the Phantom himself, GO-O-O-O-O!


 
Celia Hottenstein appears as Christine Daae at some performances.
 

Tour Schedule


8/19/15 - 10/4/15 ........................................................... SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Orpheum Theatre

10/7/15 - 10/18/15 ......................................................... SAN DIEGO, CA, San Diego Civic Theatre

10/21/15 - 11/1/15 ......................................................... TUCSON, AZ, Centennial Hall

11/5/15 - 11/15/15 ......................................................... SAN ANTONIO, TX, Majestic Theatre

11/18/15 - 11/29/15 ....................................................... HOUSTON, TX, The Hobby Center

12/8/15 - 1/23/16 ........................................................... TORONTO, ONT, Princess of Wales

1/27/16 - 2/7/16  ............................................................ BALTIMORE, MD, The Hippodrome Theatre

2/10/16 - 2/21/16 ........................................................... JACKSONVILLE, FL, Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts

2/24/16 - 3/6/16 ............................................................. MIAMI, FL, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

3/9/16 - 3/20/16 ............................................................. NASHVILLE, TN, Tennessee Performing Arts Center

3/23/16 - 4/3/16 ............................................................. NORTH CHARLESTON, SC, North Charleston Coliseum and PAC

4/6/16 - 4/17/16 ............................................................. SYRACUSE, NY, Landmark Theatre

4/20/16 - 5/1/16 ............................................................. OMAHA, NE, Orpheum Theater

5/4/16 - 5/15/16 ............................................................. INDIANAPOLIS, IN, Murat Theatre

5/18/16 - 5/29/16 ........................................................... GRAND RAPIDS, MI, DeVos Performance Hall

6/1/16 - 6/12/16 ............................................................. LOUISVILLE, KY, The Kentucky Center

6/15/16 - 7/10/16 ........................................................... CLEVELAND, OH, State Theatre

7/13/16 - 8/20/16 ........................................................... WASHINGTON, DC, The Kennedy Center

10/5/16 - 10/16/16 ......................................................... FRESNO, CA, Saroyan Theatre


 

Cast

Chris Mann...............................................................................The Phantom
  
Katie Travis...............................................................................Christine Daaé
 
Celia Hottenstein.....................................................................Christine at some performances, Princess
 
Storm Lineberger.....................................................................Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny
 
Jacquelynne Fontaine..............................................................Carlotta Giudicelli
 
David Benoit.............................................................................Monsieur Firmin
 
Edward Staudenmayer............................................................Monsieur André
 
Anne Kanengeiser....................................................................Madame Giry
 
Frank Viveros............................................................................Ubaldo Piangi
 
Morgan Cowling.......................................................................Meg Giry
 
Krista Buccellato......................................................................Princess
 
Nick Cartell...............................................................................Policeman in Pit, Fight Captain
 
Mark Emerson.........................................................................Auctioneer
 
David Foley, Jr..........................................................................Monsieur Reyer
 
Edward Juvier...........................................................................Jeweler, Passarino
 
Ted Keener..............................................................................Slave Master
 
Freddie Kimmel......................................................................Hairdresser
 
Luke Lazzaro...........................................................................Slave Master
 
Jay Lusteck..............................................................................Monsieur LeFévre, Firechief
 
Kathryn McCreary..................................................................Wild Woman
 
Christy Morton.......................................................................Wardrobe Mistress
 
Rebecca Robbins...................................................................Madame Firmin, Confidante
 
Quinto Ott..............................................................................Don Attilio
 
Eric Ruiz..................................................................................Porter
 
Allan Snyder...........................................................................Joseph Buquet
 
Christina Dooling..................................................................Corps de Ballet
 
Anjelica Bette Fellini..............................................................Corps de Ballet
 
Abigail Mentzer.....................................................................Corps de Ballet
 
Lily Rose Peck........................................................................Corps de Ballet
 
Alexandra Pernice.................................................................Corps de Ballet
 
Micki Weiner..........................................................................Corps de Ballet
 
Adam Bashian........................................................................Swing
 
Dan Debenport......................................................................Swing
 
Sarah DeBiase........................................................................Swing
 
Amy Decker............................................................................Swing
 
Christopher M. Howard........................................................Swing, Associate Dance Captain
 
Tara Sweeney.........................................................................Swing, Dance Captain
 
Marguerite Willbanks............................................................Swing

Crew and Creative Team

Composer.....................................Andrew Lloyd Webber
Producer.......................................Cameron Mackintosh
Producer.......................................The Really Useful Theatre Company
Producer.......................................NETworks Presentations

Executive Producer......................Seth Wenig
Lyrics..............................................Charles Hart
Book & Additional Lyrics.............Richard Stilgoe
Orchestrations.............................David Cullen
Director.........................................Laurence Connor
Choreographer............................Scott Ambler
Scenic Designer...........................Paul Brown
Costume Designer......................Maria Björnson
Lighting Designer........................Paule Constable
Sound Designer...........................Mick Potter
Costume Coordinator.................Christine Rowland
Projection Designer.....................Nina Dunn
Musical Supervisor.......................John Rigby

Production Overseen by.............Matthew Bourne
Associate Director........................Seth Sklar-Heyn
Associate Choreographer...........Nina Goldman
Musical Director...........................Dale Rieling
Resident Director.........................David Ruttura
Associate Lighting Designer........Rob Casey
US Associate Lighting Designer..Karen Spahn
Associate Sound Designer..........Adam Fisher
Associate Scenic Designer..........Christine Peters
Associate Costume Designer......Jimm Halliday
Magic Consultant.........................Paul Kieve
Wig Creator..................................Angela Cobbin
Production Manager...................Spencer New
Production Stage Manager........Heather Chockley
Stage Manager.............................Jovon E. Shuck
Assistant Stage Manager............Michelle Dunn
Assistant Stage Manager............Stephanie C. Halbedel
Artistic Consultant.......................Thomas Schonberg