Monday, December 18, 2017

An Absolutely Phenomenal Phantom of the Opera

Who says old dogs can't learn new tricks? 


Photo by Matthew Murphy

Or perhaps it would be more appropriately phrased: who says old musicals can't learn new tricks?

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Long time Compendium readers (thank you, wherever you are!) will remember my review four years ago (how?!?) of the Phantom of the Opera, which was the first time the revamped, re-staged 25th anniversary production swing through Minneapolis. The production value was absolutely astonishing then and one of the highlights of my year, so I knew what to expect this time around. What I wasn't prepared for was an even better cast and pit orchestra, where smart choices have clearly brought this production firmly into the 21st century.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

I won't replay the plot of Phantom here - you can read my previous thoughts here for that - but I want to review my favorite elements here for anyone who might be on the fence about attending. First up is the effervescent, flawless performance of the Phantom from Derrick Davis. Davis gives a sinuous, bombastic, nuanced performance (serving Tyra Banks-era face through that difficult face mask and heavy makeup) that left the audience in chills. He's an inspired choice for the part, and believe me when I tell you he's terrific: I was raised ad nauseam on the OG Phantom soundtrack starring Michael Crawford, so I am extremely picky about this role and Davis is absolutely magnificent. He is also the first African American I have seen in this role, a casting choice which lends renewed depth and thought to the Phantom's complicated past (which includes being abused and locked in a cage). I found every aspect of Davis's performance riveting, and he's worth the admission price alone.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Luckily Davis is matched with an exquisite soprano in the form of Eva Tavares as Christine Daae. Tavares has that ineffable talent of a Julie Andrews or Barbra Streisand where every note she sings seems as natural as breathing, and she trills through Christine's difficult arias with blissful ease. She and Davis are well matched, and their spark keeps the show burning. Jordan Craig fully embodies Raoul's steadfast love and support for Christine, and Craig gives the role the swashbuckling heroism it deserves. As Madame Giry, Kristie Dale Sanders could be plucked straight out of the novel, with a biting delivery and the perfect winged cat eye. Trista Moldovan is splendid as the fiery Carlotta Giudicelli, swanning around the stage at every opportunity and deliciously lampooning the caricature of an opera diva. And the rest of the cast is delightful too, luxuriating in their rich costumes and thorough backstories to paint a luscious tapestry with this story that leaves so much to savor as the show unfolds.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Normally I would say to just go see something and that it wouldn't matter where you sit, but for this particular show I beg you: buy the best tickets (aka closest to the stage) that you can. The production design of this particular Phantom of the Opera is bar none, and you will be absolutely blown away the better you are able to see the luscious attention to detail at every step of this production. From the brightly bejeweled costumes to the spooky set effects to the innumerable props to the breathlessly embellished stage, no stone is unturned in making this the most over the top production design you've ever seen. I can't rave about it enough (so I'll make myself stop here), but if you're a junkie for truly out of this world design, crazy special effects, and unparalleled attention to detail: this is definitely the show for you.

Photo by Alastair Muir

I also want to make a special shout out to the shockingly lean yet full-sounding pit orchestra, lead by the expert direction of Jamie Johns. Many local musicians were featured in the pit and they played beautifully throughout the show, which includes some previously recorded stanzas - not the easiest feat for live, reactive musicians, and especially for those who are newcomers to the tour. I was able to snatch several glances of the musicians as they played and it was such a joy to see how dedicated and thorough they were throughout the performance. Another local tie comes from Mark Emerson, who grew up in Anoka and is on stage as the auctioneer in the very first scene.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Phantom of the Opera has long been a favorite of mine for a reason. The music is just so damn good - undeniably so - and although many studios have tried to make film adaptations and all sorts of other iterations, nothing beats the Andrew Lloyd Webber score sung live on stage in all of its glory. The quality of the remastered design of this anniversary production is bar none, and with the addition of much more melanin to this cast than we have seen in previous tours, there is nothing I would change about this production. Derrick Davis is hauntingly perfect in this role, and although they will be switching between phantoms throughout the tour, the rest of the cast more than does him justice. If you're already a Phantom of the Opera fan you are guaranteed to love this production; if you've never seen it, it's a great gateway drug into the world of musical theater (even if you think you don't like musicals). Snatch up tickets before this closes on December 31; it's well worth the price (and even a little extra for kickass seats, I promise you won't regret it!). For more information or to buy tickets, click on this link.

Photo by Matthew Murphy


And if you're a die hard fan who wants a taste of what you're in for, don't miss the timelapse video below of the show.