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.