In 1988, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera hit Broadway after a successful debut on the West End, scooping up the Tony Award for Best Musical, as well as the Tony Award for Best Actor (Michael Crawford). Based on the 1910 French novel of the same name by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera has its origins in the gossip and myths originating at the Paris Opera in the 19th century. It’s all very romantic and mysterious: the stuff of legend.
…choreographed to a tee.
It’s 1881 and life is a hectic whirl and swirl of lush, vibrant colors at the Opéra Populaire. The charismatic Monsieur Firmin (David Benoit) and Monsieur André (Price Waldman) have purchased the opera house and with it, the Opera Ghost, the Phantom of the Opera (Chris Mann). As the new owners are treated to an aria by the reigning prima donna, Carlotta Guidicelli (Jacqualynne Fontaine), a sandbag falls from the rafters precariously close to Carlotta’s person. As Carlotta storms offstage, refusing to perform, Christine Daaé (understudy Kaitlyn Davis), a previously overlooked member of the ballet chorus is thrust into the spotlight.
Davis is the archetypical Christine (a role originated by Sarah Brightman). Her lyric soprano possesses a notable clarity, a welcome contrast to Fontaine’s Carlotta, a maddeningly ornamented coloratura. From the tremulous first notes of Christine’s famed aria “Think of Me” Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Storm Lineberger) and patron of the Opéra Populaire, recognizes Christine as his long-lost childhood friend. Later, in Christine’s dressing room they fall instantly in love. Unfortunately, the Opera Ghost has other plans for Christine’s love life and the Opéra Populaire. Dire consequences are in store for any who defy the wishes of the Opera Ghost. Queue the organ: dun, dun, dun!
Lineberger’s Raoul is a solid, manly presence onstage, an authoritative bass and the ideal male counterpart to Davis’ dreamy Christine. Davis and Linberger’s duet “All I Ask of You” is memorable. Anne Kanengeiser is a formidable Madame Giry alongside Morgan Cowling’s perfectly charming Meg Giry.
Mann’s Opera Ghost is breathtakingly emotive, despite half of his face obscured by a mask. His emotional commitment to the role of the Opera Ghost is achingly beautiful, a loving tribute to the complexities of a man whose entire life has been dictated by the way he looked. Mann possesses a fluid, rich voice that tackles the Phantom’s wide vocal range with ease. Notable musical numbers include “Music of the Night” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” It is astounding that only last week Mann underwent an emergency appendectomy.
Costume Designer Maria Björnson’s designs, facilitated by Costume Coordinator Christine Rowland, are easily the most breathtaking and romantic elements of this production of The Phantom of the Opera. Scene 1, Act One, The Dress Rehearsal of Hannibal, sets the over the top tone for the entire evening. Carlotta is resplendent in a bejeweled green and red corset and headdress. Scene 9, Act One, A Performance of Il Muto, is notable for its cohesive, yet radical departure, from the costumes in Scene 1. Here, Björnson transports us into the realm of 18th century Italian/French pastoral sumptuousness, exploring a palette of pastel colors, intricate floral patterns. Björnson’s designs are complemented by stunning powdered wigs, courtesy of Hair and Wig Creator Angela Cobbin. When the actors are offstage at the Opéra Populaire, Björnson’s costumes reflect the traditional romantic elegance of the late 19th century typically associated with The Phantom of the Opera; the ballet chorus appears to have pirouetted out of a Degas sketch.
When I read in The Washington Post that this production required twenty trucks to haul the set pieces between venues, I was impressed. Faced with the reality of The Phantom of the Opera, there is little doubt; this show is massively complex. The chandelier swaying precariously above an expectant audience is stunning but not overwhelmingly so. The loveliest part of Set Designer Paul Brown’s gargantuan Opéra Populaire is the oft used stage-within-a-stage and its decadent golden audience boxes. Brown’s set is multi-purpose but collapses and folds in on itself seamlessly and, in a mere matter of seconds, we are transported from inside Christine’s dressing room to the bowels of the Opéra Populaire; the Opera Ghost’s home.
Illusion Consultant Paul Kieve, Lighting Designer Paule Constable, Video and Projection Designer Nina Dunn and Sound Designer Mick Potter work in tandem to ensure that men disappear before our eyes, chandeliers plummet towards the audience and the Phantom lurks around every corner. Directed by Laurence Connor and Choreographed by Scott Ambler, The Phantom of the Opera is choreographed to a tee.
The Phantom of the Opera features Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Book by Webber and Richard Stilgoe and Lyrics by Stilgoe and Charles Hart. In association with The Really Useful Group, Cameron Mackintosh’s new touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera is sparkly, vivid and loud, so loud that the Kennedy Center’s fairly small Opera House appears to vibrate under Conductor Dale Reiling’s baton.
Whether you know all of the songs by heart or you’re reading the program and wondering who this Andrew Lloyd-Webber guy is, there is little reason to nitpick this polished production of a well-known classic, currently the hottest ticket in town.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with a 20-minute intermission.
The Phantom of the Opera runs through August 20th in the Opera House at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts at 2700 F St. NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets call (202) 467-4600 or click here.