By Zachary Dzierzgowski
For over 25 years, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical, “The Phantom of the Opera,” has dazzled audiences with its beautiful sets, haunting story and moving score. This year, the musical has received its first makeover in the form of a new North American tour, and the rebooted spectacle is an absolute must-see.
Phantom tells the story of Christine Daaé, an orphaned dancer who receives vocal training from an unknown spirit lurking in the chasms of the world-renowned Opera Populaire in Paris, France.
After a series of mysterious happenings at the venue, the new managers of the Opera House lose their leading soprano, and Christine Daaé is thrust into the spotlight with a positive critical reception.
She catches the eye of her childhood sweetheart, Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, and he tries to woo his way back into her heart. However, his intrusion upsets Christine’s “tutor,” the Phantom, and the three characters struggle in one of musical theater’s most memorable love triangles.
The new production preserves the lavish feel of its predecessor, but boasts an impressive array of new technical effects, choreograph and scenery.
For starters, central to the set is a giant, rotating brick tower that serves as the Opera House backstage, manager’s office, catacombs and ultimately the Phantom’s lair. The set changes are seamless, and as the audience is transported from scene to scene, it’s nearly impossible to hold back an awe-inspired gasp.
From a technical standpoint, the show ups the ante with new special effects and embellishments. More fire, smoke, shadows and firecrackers make this rendition a much more “action-packed” Phantom experience.
The opening overture reveals a revamped chandelier, which, at the end of Act I, explodes with an array of firecrackers and drops yards away from the audience’s heads.
During the performance that I attended, a group of people sitting in that section actually got up and moved into the aisles to avoid being crushed. Luckily, their fears did not come to fruition.
Perhaps most impressive was Julia Udine, the female tour de force making her touring debut as Christine Daaé.
Her role is a demanding one, combining all the most difficult aspects of singing and acting.
I have seen the heroine performed by actresses who could sing the role but failed to portray the character with the complex sensitivity that make it extraordinary.
Udine taps deep into the role, drawing out Christine’s inner conflict as she struggles to make sense of her desperate situation.
Her rendition of “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” brought me to tears — it was one of the first times I felt as though Christine was pleading with her deceased father and not just singing through notes in the score.
Though overall a dazzling production, my one complaint was the weakness of the show’s title character.
Cooper Grodin failed to capture the duality of the masked lead and instead came off as a solely psychopathic kidnapper.
I felt no sympathy for the Phantom throughout the entire musical, and I was disappointed that the show’s star-vehicle lacked the haunting presence that the character necessitates.
Fortunately, the talented cast and novel innovations more than compensated for the Phantom’s shortcomings, though the touring production would benefit from reconsidering their principal actor.
As someone who loves the musical, I was quite content with the rebooted approach. Seeing such a classic Broadway piece injected with new life after 25 years was a wonderful experience and shows that Phantom is sure to stand the tests of time. If you have the opportunity to see this new production, be sure to buy your ticket!