Photo: Matthew Murphy
Jacquelynne Fontaine in The Phantom of the Opera tour at AT&T Performing Arts Center
Dallas — The highly anticipated new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera descends to the Winspear Opera House to open the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s 2014-2015 Broadway Series. Phantom hasn’t been seen in Dallas since 2010, and the excitement sizzled ahead of Friday night’s performance. The lobby was teeming with patrons who seemed more dressed up than usual to behold this classic musical performed in an actual opera house.
And we’re the lucky ones this year. Dallas is the only Texas city to get producer Cameron Mackintosh’s new show; others in the Lone Star State will have to wait until 2016. UK choreographer Matthew Bourne also oversees the production, and Laurence Connor directs.
Photo: Matthew Murphy
Julia Udine and Cooper Grodin in The Phantom of the Opera tour at AT&T Performing Arts Center
The musical first appeared in 1986, with book by Richard Stilgoe and Webber based on Gaston Leroux’s novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. The story takes place in late-19th century France at the Opera Populare, which is based on the famous Paris Opera House. Christine Daaé (Julia Udine) has unexpectedly risen to a starring role the company’s latest opera, a feat partly attributed to her mysterious teacher who develops a dangerous obsession with her. After winning the hearts of the audience and the theater’s new patron Raoul (Ben Jacoby), she discovers this tutor is the Phantom of the Opera (Cooper Grodin), a disfigured man living under the theater who wreaks havoc on the opera company and places extraordinary demands on them. Destruction and murder are the consequences for disobeying, and Christine must make life-or-death decision that will not only affect her life but her future with Raoul.
Although this is a reboot, the vast majority of the experience is still preserved. Musical sequences thankfully stay the same, and the order of events remains unchanged, so Phantom fans really have little to worry about. Original costume design by the late Maria Björnson also stays intact, and the luxurious costumes of “Masquerade” are especially radiant.
The changes made to this long-running hit musical happen mostly in the environments. Set designer Paul Brown embellishes the settings to make each scene come alive and even gives a taste of the hierarchy found in old opera houses. The shabby, almost dingy dressing room of the chorus girls contrasts beautifully with the rich, opulent colors and furnishings of the owners’ office.
To represent the darker parts of the theater—including the backstage areas and the entrance to the Phantom’s lair—a large, stone-like circular structure almost as tall as the towering proscenium of the Winspear moves, shifts, spirals, and splits to either heighten the darkness of the scene or transition to a contrasting setting. The journey down to the Phantom’s lair is achieved by an impressive and surprising design that I dare not reveal here. The upgraded chandelier is also worth seeing, although there are some changes in its pathway that might disappoint some.
Alterations to the characters’ line delivery and timing freshen the production up a bit and make it more realistic. In keeping with the melodramatic style of the 1980s, previous Phantom performers dealt in extremes, with either high levels of hard-hitting dramatic singing or even tones of pristine quality, neither of which represent the manner in which people actually communicate with each other. While some of that is still there, the performances carry a more dynamic quality to match the range of emotions in the show.
The leading cast mostly give superior performances in their respective roles. Udine and Jacoby take “All I Ask of You” beyond a simple sweet love song to a desperately impassioned plea for comfort amidst the chaos. Grodin presents a delicately fervent “Music of the Night” but tends to go a bit overboard when the Phantom gets angry.
Frank Viveros as Ubaldo Piangi and Jacquelynne Fontaine as Carlotta Guidicelli supply plenty of comic moments as a typical primo uomo and prima donna of a famous company. Fontaine’s timing and vocals in the opening solo for the Hannibal rehearsal at the beginning of Act I is highly entertaining, and Viveros’ interactions with the director during various rehearsals is even more hilarious.
Edward Staudenmayer and Brad Oscar portray Monsieur André and Monsier Firmin, respectively, and are perhaps the most realistic characters of the whole show. Hannah Florence breaks Meg Giry out of her shell with a bubbly and somewhat forceful performance, and Linda Balgord amps up the dramatics as the ballet mistress Madame Giry.
Choreographer and longtime Matthew Bourne dancer Scott Ambler adds male dancers to the chorus of ballerinas and creates a magical sequence for “Masquerade.”
The new elements combined with the original stunning glory of the musical make for an utterly enchanted evening. From the opening visual before the overture to the suspenseful ending, it undeniably lives up to the hype.
writes:Wednesday, August 13 at 9:18AM
We promised our guests that "even if you don't like opera, you will love this" as we and so many others have said. However, changes have been made. It was, after all, more like an opera in the singing style. We couldn't understand the words that were being sung and had to explain the story line to our guests. Also, although we did enjoy the evening, it was not all it was hyped up to be in terms of special effects. Compared to previous performances, this one was disappointing to both us and our guests who flew in from out-of-state to Dallas instead of going to New York for a Broadway play.
writes:Wednesday, August 13 at 12:17PM
I was disappointed in this production. This was the fourth time I had seen Phantom. I too had trouble understanding the words. But the biggest disappointment was the chandelier. When the chandelier is to rise from the stage it sets the whole mood for the rest of the production. Not having it rise from broken pieces just did not give off the right mood. This production just did not live up to expectations.
writes:Friday, August 15 at 12:39PM
For the first time in my life, I walked out after the first act. My wife and I love the original production and have seen it numerous times. The magic of the show is gone.
writes:Monday, August 18 at 10:01AM
The set reimagining of this production was AMAZING. This was the best technical production I have seen of the show and was not disappointed in any way. Well done.
writes:Monday, August 18 at 12:55PM
Sorry, I was very disappointed. I have seen this play in London, New York, Vegas, and at Dallas at Fair Park. I wanted this to be very good, I took a guest. I was so excited to introduce them to a Production I love so much. So many things were wrong I hated the opening, the chandelier is what makes this memorable. There was not the -wow- factor at all. Really sorry I appreciate the efforts of the performers it was the production that fell short ... 2 boo's and 1 hisss.
writes:Monday, August 18 at 1:41PM
I saw the show last Wednesday and it was incredible! Top notch talent,acting, voices and gorgeous staging. Rousing standing ovation began as the curtain dropped. If you look at the ratings for this tour at Ticketmaster, you will find overwhelmingly people LOVE this production. In fact it has a rating of 4.6 out of 5. But clearly you can't please everyone. Once again, bravo to all involved.
writes:Tuesday, August 19 at 7:54AM
Sunday's performance marked my fourth time seeing POTO (New York and Dallas 2x). Absolutely LOVED the new orchestrations!! Vocally, as my husband and I are opera fans, we enjoyed the performance - particularly the women. Such effortless control. However - and this is a big however - the Phantom was comparitively a lifeless blob. After "All I Ask..." he is supposed to fight within himself over his love for Christine and his hate for Christine. All I could say is, "I got nuthin'." No conflict, no slow burn igniting into rage. Same with "Music of the Night." This Phantom disappointed. We went home and watched the POTO 25th Anniversary Celebration at Royal Albert Hall to cleanse our souls. POTO without a Phantom was too frustrating.
writes:Thursday, August 21 at 7:36AM
If you want to see the POTO done right..watch the 25th anniversary DVD. Grodin was not good as the Phantom..a lifeless blob indeed. Seemed rushed and did not exhibit the emotion and inner turmoil that Ramin Karimloo has done many times. I wasn't that impressed...
writes:Wednesday, December 10 at 5:21AM
This was my first time seeing a live show of The Phantom of the Opera and I took my best friend with me as a surprise, since we had both been die hard POTO fans since we were very young. We've obsessed over almost every video footage and musical rendition of the show that we possibly could and were beyond excited to finally see it live. First of all, the stage took our breath away. It was so beautiful from the props, costumes, how the stage rotated -- it was wonderful. Christine was flawless, as was the other cast member... however, we were sorely disappointed with a very important character of this production: the Phantom. He was absolutely lifeless, his expression was no where to be found, and the lyrics were just sang. We never felt the Phantom from him and his performance did nothing but rub us wrong. Everyone else was beautifully cast and we found ourselves mainly smiling, laughing, and yes, even tearing up, but whenever a scene with the Phantom occurred, we both just felt awkward. His movement was robotic, his moment of, "Sing, sing for me!" was supposed to be powerful to show his total control over Christine and it was so casual, relaxed, and like a elementary choir teacher pretending to listen to Christine. There was no power, no passion, and nothing in his performance except awkwardness. Since when is Rauol supposed to out shine the Phantom?
Yeah, that happened.
I'm not sure if it was the director's decision for his overall actions, but if not, overall bad casting as far as the Phantom.
Other than that, generally beautiful production and everything else was spot on.