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Of the many Andrew Lloyd Webber hits, Jesus Christ Superstar has always been a personal favorite of mine. It rocks, it moves and…it’s back. After a lengthy absence, the award-winning musical has returned to the Chicago area, this time with a bit of a twist as, unlike past productions, the show features an all African American cast. This, opposed to the nearly all white cast complete with a black Judas that we are accustomed to seeing. And, the tremendously gifted cast works so very well in this revival piece. The change is bold and should be commended. And the execution is nearly flawless. 

With one of the greatest rock operas of all time currently finding its temporary home at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre, we know by the end of the production’s first number, “Heaven on Their Minds”, that Mykal Kilgore, who takes on the demanding role of “Judas”, is a special talent. We also get an idea within the next few numbers (“What’s the Buzz?”, “Strange Thing, Mystifying” and “Everything’s Alright”) how deep the talent pool goes in this one-of-a-kind production.  

Reliving the last days of Jesus Christ leading up to the crucifixion, the timeless musical, which premiered on Broadway on October 12th, 1971, is set to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Tim Rice, in what began as a rock opera concept album by the two in 1970. Since, it has been one of the most successful musicals of all time gathering a loyal fan-base from all over the world. In Jesus Christ Superstar, we visit Jesus, accompanied by his disciples and Mary Magdalene, as he performs miracles and brings hope to the world while claiming he is the son of God, much to the chagrin of the Pharisees and scribes who see him as a threat to their teachings – a threat they would like removed so much they ask the Romans for help.

In Paramount’s current production of Jesus Christ Superstar, a fifteen-piece orchestra paves the way for the talented performers who leave their mark in one number after another. Kilgore goes on to navigate through each song with skilled precision and sings with amazing depth. And while Kilgore impresses more and more as the show progresses by staying true (and then some) to the “Judas” that both Murray Head and Carl Anderson made famous, Felicia Boswell is also quick to excite the audience with her moving interpretation of Mary Magdalene, particularly in the popular “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”. Beautiful, graceful and vocally dynamic, Boswell brings a gentle warmth to the role, wonderfully capturing the love that Mary had for Jesus. Throughout the production, remarkable performances are abundant with Rufus Bonds Jr. taking the reins in a very commanding depiction of Pontius Pilate, so well delivering the message of his conflict to have Jesus crucified at the request of the mob that is influenced by the religious law makers or to set him free since no Roman law has been broken. Lorenzo Rush Jr. also leaves a strong presence as the baritone-wielding Caiaphas who leads the charge against Jesus, fearing that he will revolutionize Jewish law. 

Jesus of Nazareth is commendably played Evan Tyrone Martin. Martin aptly captures the virtue and charisma needed for the role of and is convincing while conveying just how tiring it can be to be the son of God. Martin’s voice is strong and he has little trouble carrying the many challenging melodies that come with playing Jesus, though the patented screams that both Ted Neeley (film version) and Ian Gillan (concept album) had incorporated into the role were absent, leaving a couple prime crescendo moments to the wayside. Still, Martin holds his own, even getting a much-deserved extended applause after his riveting performance of “Gethsemane”, a powerful number where Jesus questions why it is that he must die. 

The show’s ensemble is nothing short of amazing, the actors changing back and forth from disciples, to Pharisees to lepers to soldiers ever so efficiently. At one point, Mark J.P. Hood breaks rank from the ensemble as Simon and superbly performs one of the show’s highlight numbers “Simon Zealotes”, where he praises Jesus and urges him to build an army to fight the powers of Rome. Another crowd-pleasing moment (among the countless others) occurs when Jesus is brought forth to Herod (Avionce Hoyles) in a glittery display that dazzles in the somewhat jazzy “Herod’s Song”. Kudos to Hoyles who thrusts the role of Herod into another stratosphere.     

Paramount’s Jesus Christ Superstar is a fascinating production that entertains nonstop from its opening overture to its near-finale number “Superstar”. Featuring a wealth of acting and singing talent and a rockin’ orchestra that does the soundtrack right, this could possibly be one of the most polished, expressive and enjoyable musicals to come our way in some time.  

Superb. This beautiful production is super recommended.

Magnificently directed and choreographed by Ron Kellum with music direction by Tom Vendafreddo, Jesus Christ Superstar is being performed at Paramount Theatre through May 28th. For tickets and/or more show information click here.       

 

Published in Theatre in Review

In anticipation of high ticket demand, Lyric Opera of Chicago announced today that the initial block of tickets for its Spring 2018 production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar will be available for sale a year in advance, starting Thursday, March 9, 2017 at 10 a.m. The North American debut of Jesus Christ Superstar, in a reimagining of Timothy Sheader’s award-winning production from London’s Regent’s Park Open-Air Theatre, will be presented at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, April 27 - May 20, 2018.  Single tickets, which start at $44.00, will be available online at https://www.lyricopera.org/concertstickets/calendar/2017-2018/productions/lyricopera/jesus-christ-superstar-tickets, by visiting Lyric’s Civic Opera House box office, or by calling 312-827-5600.

Three-time Olivier Award winner Timothy Sheader directs the American debut of his acclaimed 2016 production from Regent’s Park Open-Air Theatre. Sheader will be joined in Chicago by the original creative team from this production to re-envision and mount the grand-scale Lyric production, including Olivier Award-winning choreographer Drew McOnie, Tony Award-nominated set & costume designer Tom Scutt and Olivier Award-nominated lighting designer, Lee Curran. The Chicago production will feature an all-star cast (to be announced at a later date), along with members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

Jesus Christ Superstar is the sixth installment of Lyric’s Musical Initiative. It follows Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s beloved My Fair Lady, which is being presented at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, April 28-May 21, 2017.  

“Up to now in our musical theater productions, we’ve concentrated on American classics,” notes Lyric's General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud, “but in 2017/18, for the first time, we’re producing an iconic rock opera, one that suits a big theater: Jesus Christ Superstar.” In director Timothy Sheader’s production, “Our audience will be reminded that this is a truly unforgettable piece. When it arrived in America in 1972, it became one of the greatest successes in Broadway history, and it’s been enthralling audiences everywhere ever since.”

Jesus Christ Superstar is an iconic rock opera that reinvented musical theater for the modern age. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, this global blockbuster tells the story of the final weeks in the life of Jesus Christ, from the perspective of Judas Iscariot. As Christ’s followers grow more fervent, Judas must make his fateful choice between faith and betrayal. Filled with an exciting mix of musical styles that draw upon 1970s rock, gospel, folk and funk themes, this contemporary imagining of the biblical tale features high-energy dance and powerful storytelling.

The Lyric Opera premiere of Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar is generously made possible by Lead Sponsor The Negaunee Foundation and cosponsor Mr. and Mrs. J. Christopher Reyes. Production by The Regent’s Park Theatre London.

Single tickets for the balance of Lyric Opera’s 2017/18 season will go on sale in July 2017. Season subscriptions are on-sale now by visiting https://www.lyricopera.org/concertstickets/1718-lyric-opera-season

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

What began as a 1970’s rock opera concept album became a global stage phenomenon that captured seven Tony Award nominations and countless awards overseas in its 40-plus years.

 

Jesus Christ Superstar, the beloved rock opera that explores the story and internal struggles of the last seven days of the greatest idol in history - Jesus - is the 2016-17 Broadway Series finale, April 19-May 28, 2017 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora.

 

While thousands of productions have taken the stage in 31 countries, Paramount's is surely the production the theater community in Chicago and around the country will be talking about.

 

We already know Jesus Christ Superstar features music by the most successful composer of our generation, Andrew Lloyd Webber, with indelible lyrics by Tim Rice. Hits include "Everything's Alright," "Heaven on Their Minds," "Hosanna," "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Superstar."

 

With nationally recognized director and producer Ron Kellum making his Paramount debut with Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago will be introduced to a director and choreographer whose experience ranges from being an artistic director of Cirque du Soleil's KOOZA to staging major sports spectacles such as last month's 2017 NFL Pro Bowl halftime show.

 

Paramount veterans Tom Vendafreddo and Kory Danielson will collaborate as co-music directors in leading the cast and a 14-piece live rock band.

 

The A-list production design team includes Kevin Depinet, set design; Theresa Ham, costume design; Greg Hofmann, lighting design; Mike Tutaj, projection design; and Adam Rosenthal, sound design.

 

So what's the buzz? Tell me what's a-happenin'?

 

Paramount's Jesus Christ Superstar will feature an all-black cast led by Broadway and regional musical theater veteran Destan Owens as Jesus of Nazareth. Owens's Broadway credits include Tom Collins in Rent, Billy Flynn in Chicago, Adrian in Smokey Joe's Café and Hawker in The Who's Tommy 15th Anniversary Concert.

 

Paramount Theatre's Jesus Christ Superstar will be directed by (from left) Ron Kellum. The cast includes Destan Owens (Jesus), Mykal Kilgore (Judas Iscariot), Felicia Boswell (Mary Magdalene), Rufus Bonds, Jr. (Pontius Pilate), Avionce Hoyles (King Herod/Annas) and Lorenzo Rush Jr. (Caiaphas).

The ensemble features (pictured above, top, from left) Stephen "Blu" Allen, Jos N. Banks, Ciera Dawn, Gilbert Domally, Candace C. Edwards, Jared D.M. Grant, Keirsten Hodgens, (row 2) Mark J.P. Hood, Reneisha Jenkins, Micheal Lovette, Evan Tyrone Martin, Gabriel Mudd, Brian Nelson Jr., Renellè Nicole, (row 3) Jaymes Osborne, Kafi Pierre, Jon Pierce, Travis Porchia, Camille Robinson, Alexis J. Roston and Jessica Brooke Seals.

 

"This is an incredible opportunity to unite the retelling of one of the greatest stories with an iconic piece of musical theater through the voices and lens of my community," said Jesus Christ Superstar director Ron Kellum. "'Why an all-black Superstar?' 'Why not.' Our responsibility as storytellers is to find ways to represent truth in ways that translate to every audience no matter of color, creed, orientation or status. This will be a soul stirring experience!"

 

"Wait until you hear the voices singing in the grand finale of this season, presented for you in a powerful new production directed and choreographed by Ron Kellum!" said Paramount Artistic Director Jim Corti. "I dare to say it speaks to the state of the art as intriguingly as it does to the state of the union! It is a contemporary thrill ride of a production with a cast as beautiful as the vision of its director!"

 

 

Jesus Christ Superstar: Dates, times and ticket information

 

Previews start April 19. Press opening is Saturday, April 22 at 8 p.m. Performances run through May 28: Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Single tickets are $44 to $59. The Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora, is surrounded by affordable parking and new restaurants for pre- or post-show dining.

 

For tickets, visit ParamountAurora.com, call (630) 896-6666, or stop by the Paramount box office Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and two hours prior to evening performances.

 

Jesus Christ Superstar is rated PG.

 

 

About Jesus Christ Superstar

 

A rock star stands center stage, awash in lights while tens-of-thousands of adoring fans repeat every word he sings. An endless sea of bodies stands for hours shivering in the freezing temps just to say they were there when the new leader of the free world was sworn in. We love and celebrate our idols; we always have...that is, until we move on to our next idol.

 

Jesus Christ Superstar is not just the story of the last seven days of the greatest idol in history. It's the story of the close friend who tried to save him and why that friend eventually betrayed him. It's a story of love and fear, of kindness and greed, of expectations and what happens when those expectations are not met. 

 

This is an energized rock opera that delves into the internal struggles of those mortals, those humans - including Jesus himself - as they drew closer to one of the most pivotal moments in history. It's an emotionally-charged journey in which, in the end, each person discovers something about themselves when the stakes are at their highest.

 

Andrew Lloyd Webber is the most successful composer of musicals of his generation and also a breaker of molds for the type. His first collaboration with lyricist Tim Rice was Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a musical based on the Biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. The two soon hit on the idea of writing a musical based on the life of Jesus Christ from the point of view of Judas, and, like Joseph, imbued with a strong rock and roll influence. Unable to finance a stage version, Lloyd Webber and Rice did manage to record their show, and in 1970, the album Jesus Christ Superstar went on to sell millions all over the world. The musical version debuted on Broadway in 1971, earning 5 Tony nominations and a Drama Desk Award for Sondheim for "Most Promising Composer." The 1973 film version remains a 1970's rock opera cult classic.

 

Behind the scenes: Paramount's Jesus Christ Superstar

 

Ron Kellum (director) is a seasoned director and producer with experience ranging from sports entertainment to theater, film and television. He serves as a senior producer for e2k, co-director for the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii and co-producer for the NFL Pro Bowl United Way Thanksgiving Halftime Show. Kellum produced the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team Launch at Paramount Studios as well as several high-profile press and VIP events for Monster CES in Las Vegas. His directing and choreography credits included Iron Man 2 starring Robert Downey Jr. as well as the musicals Chicago, The Color Purple, A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, Rent, Once on This Island, 5 Guys Named Moe, Ain't Misbehavin' and Smokey Joe's Café. He appeared on Broadway in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Chicago, and he toured nationally in Aida, Dreamgirls, Fosse and Chicago. Learn more at ronkellum.com.

 

Tom Vendafreddo (co-music director and conductor) is helming his 12th consecutive musical at Paramount, preceded by In the Heights, Mary Poppins, The Who's Tommy, Les Misérables (Jeff Nomination, Music Direction), Oklahoma! (Jeff Nomination, Music Direction), A Christmas Story - The Musical (Jeff Nomination, Music Direction), Hairspray - The Broadway Musical, West Side Story (Jeff Nomination, Music Direction), Mamma Mia!, Disney's The Little Mermaid and Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Other credits include Company and Sweet Charity (Writers Theatre); On the Town and Godspell (Marriott Lincolnshire); Road Show and Shrek: The Musical (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); The Spitfire Grill (BoHo Theatre - Jeff Nomination for Music Direction); and Pump Boys and Dinettes (Metropolis Performing Arts Centre). Regional credits include Rent (San Diego Musical Theatre), Odyssey (Old Globe Theatre), Forever Plaid (Chestnut Fine Arts) and It's a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play (Cygnet Theatre). As a cabaret artist, he has performed in Chicago, New York, San Diego and Melbourne. In 2014, he became the Founding Artistic Director of the Chicago Artists Chorale, a choral ensemble of working professionals in the Chicago theatre community. He received a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and Music Education from Eastman School of Music and a Master of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from San Diego State University. tomvendafreddo.com

 

Kory Danielson (co-music director and conductor) is coming back for his 10th consecutive musical at the Paramount, following Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Disney's The Little Mermaid, Mamma Mia!, West Side Story, Hairspray - The Broadway Musical, A Christmas Story - The Musical, Oklahoma!, Les Misérables and The Who's Tommy. Other Chicago credits includeAssassins, The Full Monty, Loving Repeating, Heathers, Tomorrow Morning (Kokandy Productions); Passion (2014 Jeff Award for Outstanding Music Direction), Smokey Joe's Cafe (Theo Ubique); How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Porchlight Music Theatre); Hedwig, Wedding Singer (Haven Theatre); and Zanna, Don't!, Lucky Stiff, Triumph of Love (The Music Theatre Company). Danielson has also worked with Drury Lane, Broadway in Chicago, Chicago Children's Theatre, Bailiwick and Hell in a Handbag.

 

Paramount's Jesus Christ Superstar production team also includes Trent Stork, associate director; Kafi Pierre, associate choreographer; Ethan Deppe, electronic music designer; Katie Cordts, wig, hair and makeup designer; Amanda Relaford, properties designer; R&D Choreography, Vic Bayona and Rick Gilbert, violence designers; Roger Ellis, dramaturg; Hannah Wichmann, stage manager; and Nora Mally, assistant stage manager. 

 

Jesus Christ Superstar is sponsored by the Daily Herald. Paramount's 2016-17 Broadway Series is sponsored by BMO Harris Bank and The Dunham Fund. Broadway Series Orchestra Sponsor is Rush-Copley Medical Center. Broadway Series Lighting Sponsor is ComEd. Broadway Series Costume Sponsor is Gerald Kia. Jesus Christ Superstar is also sponsored by the Daily Herald.

 

More about Paramount's 2016-17 Season

 

In addition to Paramount's 2016-17 Broadway Series finale, Jesus Christ Superstar, Paramount's season also includes Home Free (Mar. 24), Madeleine Peyroux and Rickie Lee Jones (Mar. 25), Golden Dragon Acrobats (Mar. 26),

Riverdance: 20 Years(Mar. 31-Apr. 2, five shows), Piano Men: A Tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel (Jun. 10, two shows) and Barbra and Frank: The Concert That Never Was... (Jun. 11). Back in 2016-17 is the Classic Movie Monday series, presenting everyone's favorite flicks on a two-story screen for just $1. Paramount also serves the community with low-cost children's shows designed to entertain while they educate: Miss Nelson is Missing (Mar. 22) and Laura Ingalls Wilder(Mar. 23). 

 

For subscriptions, single tickets or more information, go to ParamountAurora.com, call (630) 896-6666, or stop by the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in Aurora.

 

 

About the Paramount Theatre 

 

The Paramount Theatre (ParamountAurora.com) is the center for performing arts, entertainment and arts education in Aurora, the second largest city in Illinois. Named "One of Chicago's Top 10 Attended Theatres" by the League of Chicago Theatres, the 1,888-seat Paramount, located in downtown Aurora at 23 E. Galena Blvd., is nationally recognized for the quality and caliber of its presentations, superb acoustics and historic beauty.   

 

The Paramount opened on September 3, 1931. Designed by renowned theater architects C.W. and George L. Rapp, the theater captures a unique Venetian setting portrayed in the art deco influence of the 1930s. The first air-conditioned building outside of Chicago, the Paramount offered the public a variety of entertainment, including "talking pictures," vaudeville, concerts and circus performances for more than 40 years. 

 

In 1976, Aurora Civic Center Authority purchased the Paramount and closed the theater for restoration. The $1.5 million project restored the Paramount to its original grandeur. On April 29, 1978, the Paramount Arts Center opened, offering a variety of theatrical, musical, comedy, dance and family programming. In 2006, a 12,000-square-foot, two-story Grand Gallery lobby was added, with a new, state-of-the-art box office, café and art gallery.

 

Today, the Paramount self-produces its own Broadway Musical Series, presents an eclectic array of comedy, music, dance and family shows, and on most Mondays, screens a classic movie.

 

The Paramount Theatre is one of three live performance venues programmed and managed by the Aurora Civic Center Authority (ACCA). ACCA also oversees the Paramount's "sister" stage, the intimate, 173-seat Copley Theatre located directly across the street from the Paramount at 8 E. Galena Blvd., as well as RiverEdge Park, downtown Aurora's summer outdoor concert venue.

 

The Paramount Theatre continues to expand its artistic and institutional boundaries under the guidance of Tim Rater, President and CEO, Aurora Civic Center Authority; Jim Corti, Artistic Director, Paramount Theatre; a dedicated Board of Trustees and a devoted staff of live theater and music professionals. 

 

For tickets and information, go to ParamountAurora.com or call (630) 896-6666.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Possibly one of the best productions of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” that has graced the Chicago area is currently playing through June 5th at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Powerful, rich in musical and vocal performance and brilliantly choreographed, we are treated to a Tony caliber cast, as this production of “Evita” stirs the souls of audience members throughout in its intimate theatre-in-the-round setting. Superbly directed and choreographed by Jeff Award nominee Alex Sanchez, this electrifying production of “Evita” captivates from its opening ensemble number “Requiem” and continues to do so through the end of its second act. 

“Evita” is the story of Eva Peron who became Argentina’s First Lady in 1946 and remained so until her death in 1952. Married to Argentinian President Juan Peron, Eva was the country’s ambassador and became a true inspiration for its people. Hers is truly a story of rags to riches coming from one of the poorest areas of Junin before fleeing with a musician to Buenos Aires years later where her good looks contributed to her becoming a successful actress. In 1944 Eva Duarte met Colonel Juan Peron at a fundraising benefit for a major San Juan earthquake that claimed over 10,000 lives. From there the pair became of historical fame as together, they brought together “a new Argentina” much to the skepticism of Che, the iconic revolutionary. As the two ruled Argentina, Che is suspect that nothing has really changed for the better as promised by the power couple except for the wealth of the newly married Peron’s. 

Hannah Corneau is nothing less than triumphant as “Eva Peron”. Corneau delivers a spectacular performance that is sure to be remembered long after. Strong, passionate and eloquent, Corneau is seemingly meant to play the role of Eva. And for any production of “Evita” to succeed, there needs to be a convincing “Che”. Austin Lesch is just that and even exceeds expectations thanks to his hypnotic charisma and gifted voice. Local favorite and seasoned veteran Larry Adams also turns in a sincere performance as “Juan Peron”, Eva’s love interest and future president of Argentina. The set is impressive with rising platforms emerging from the stage when needed and props lowered from above, creating an imaginative setting of 1940s Buenos Aires while the dancing and music enthralling and the story engaging – all the components of a musical masterpiece.

While the leading actors are comprehensively engaging throughout, the ensemble is exceptional in their own right. This tightly knit collaborative is sprinkled with actors who have successfully taken on leading roles themselves at Marriott Theatre such as Brian Bohr and Jameson Cooper (this being his twentieth Marriott production).  At the same time Eliza Palasz as Peron’s mistress and David Schlumpf (Magaldi) round out the cast with solid performances in their highly relevant supporting roles.  

This tour de force production comes highly recommended. There is a reason that Andrew Lloyd Webber is the wealthiest musician in the world and “Evita” is one of his greatest works. And Marriott Theatre does this production to perfection. Produced and directed with a vision that would be sure to please Webber himself, this is a must-see show. 

“Evita” is being performed at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. For more information and/or tickets visit www.marriotttheatre.com. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Throughout the last century, The Phantom of the Opera has taken on many forms. Originally written by Gaston Leroux and published in early 20th century France the Phantom soon found its’ way onto the silver screen right here in the U S of A with Rupert Julian’s silent film depiction. Currently however, The Phantom of the Opera is most well known for the incredibly moving musical adaptation composed primarily by Andrew Lloyd Webber and making its’ debut in 1986 London. The musical received two Laurence Olivier Awards for Best New Musical and Michael Crawford (the Phantom himself) Best Actor, paving the way for a 1988 debut on Broadway where it became an immediate classic and eventually the longest running show in Broadway history. After receiving two Tony Awards for Best Musical and Crawford again achieving Best Actor in a Musical, the Phantom of the Opera would be transcribed into thirteen different languages to be seen by over 130 million people in theaters all over the world.

Now, considering the rich history and evolution in production throughout the many tours The Phantom has undergone, I can’t help but feel my reviewing this most recent version of Lloyd Webber’s adaptation to be somewhat arbitrary. You see, until I experienced this new production by Cameron Mackintosh, my knowledge of the Phantom outside of the Las Vegas version at Venetian was limited solely to Joel Schumacher’s 2004 film depiction and because this film was written and produced by Webber himself it, of course, is a masterpiece. That being said, having only had the pleasure of witnessing only the Vegas-ized production of this beloved theatrical classic, I offer you a fresh perspective on this spectacular new production by Cameron Mackintosh.

Nostalgia filled the air that night at the Cadillac Palace Theatre as the auctioneer presented old relics of an opera house long past. Spirits rose as the enchanting melody emanated from that silly little music box where that bellhop monkey we’ve all grown to adore played the cymbal. Hearing those notes served as a firm reminder of all the gripping music that so effectually captivates the heart and delivers that sense of stirring emotion that comes with much anticipation. But as we all know, the show doesn’t truly begin until the auctioneer presents “lot 666”… as the trademark chandelier is lowered, uncovered and illuminated.

The magnificent display proves a worthy reflection of the production to follow as the stage is, to say the least, impressive. A set such as this, nearly thirty years in the making and after grossing somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 billion dollars worldwide, certainly shows its extraordinary progress in quality and an unmistakable attention to detail is visible throughout the set. The integration of tracks and mobile parts made for an engaging display. The set itself however, as impressive as it was, merely emphasized the wardrobe which brought life to each character in an undeniably authentic fashion that the audience into the romance and magic of it all. The Phantom of the Opera was brought to life in a truly striking new light and I couldn’t imagine a better venue to bare witness to such a spectacle. The Cadillac Palace offers a wide range of seating options all of which provide an excellent view of the stage and the décor, in one word, grandeur.

I soon took note that some characters added a sense of lightheartedness to this new production that caught me by surprise. Carlotta Giudicelli (performed by Trista Moldovan) and Ubaldo Piangi (Phumzile Sojola) for instance, immediately jumped out to me and the audience both, carrying an untraditionally high-spirited weightlessness that is otherwise uncharacteristic to their personalities. Even amid the wake of the ominous Phantom, Carlotta and Ubaldo’s playful touch manage to lift the audience to a blithesome state of ignorance receiving laughter and applause in nearly every appearance from Scene 1 “The Dress Rehearsal of Hannibal” to Scene 7 “Don Juan Triumphant” in the second act. There is never a dull moment while either shines on the stage.

Nevertheless, their characters serve merely as a distraction only building suspense while The Phantom (exceptionally performed by Derrick Davis) lies wait beneath the stage. Finally making his first appearance in Scene 3 “Corps de Ballet Dressing Room” while singing the masterfully conducted “Angel of Music” his voice struck me as even more than expected from the man chosen to portray The Phantom. It is only in the scenes following that The Phantom must prove his love to Christine (beautifully performed by Katie Travis) and Davis’ portrayal to the audience, for it is in these moments that one falls in love with The Phantom of the Opera. Davis taking on the roll of The Phantom and doing so as well as he has is truly an admirable accomplishment, a milestone to be proud of for the rest of ones’ life. My hat goes off to you sir, for as you led Christine deeper into the labyrinth and ever closer to The Phantoms’ lair I was no longer watching the portrayal of Derrick Davis, but The Phantom himself had entered my mind. Davis and Travis' are brilliantly paired, their chemistry a strong building block for this fervent, heartfelt and beautiful production.  

We’re all aware of The Phantom’s infamous nature behind the mask, while precarious and fraught with danger at the turn of a hat, still somehow affording a mysterious and even seductive quality that continues to draw you in. However, once unmasked, I find that Davis’ portrayal elevates to even a higher realm, capturing the hurt and passion one would so desperately feel as a disfigured “phantom” who longs to be loved so badly. 

From ballet dancer to center stage, Miss Christine Daaé carried the innocence of an angel. Travis’ portrayal of Christine is outstanding. Her voice did more than match that of The Phantom’s, and carried an unwavering familiarity that held true to the classic. Song and word alone could never do her justice and the nature of her performance can only be experienced firsthand. For it is only our beloved Christine, that can bring The Phantom to his knees and the crowd to their feet. 

 

The Phantom of the Opera is playing at Cadillac Palace through January 8th. For tickets and more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

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