Theatre Review: The Phantom of the Opera is a timeless display of theatrical magic

The company of The Phantom of the Opera. Photo credit: Alastair Muir

The company of The Phantom of the Opera. Photo credit: Alastair Muir

The phantom is back in Vancouver and he’s had a fabulous makeover. Broadway Across Canada’s new touring version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera keeps the essence and spirit of the original production alive, while making things fresh and exciting for audiences. The show is a stunning spectacle of brilliant performances, visuals, staging and of course, music.

Phantom has always been celebrated as a thrilling theatrical experience and this production does not disappoint. The opulence and mystique of life at the Paris Opera in the 19th century is masterfully re-created. The original production was over-the-top spectacular in every way – this production is spectacular as well, but more realistic.

Thanks to set designer Paul Brown, we see the gorgeous backdrops and costumes on the opera house’s stage, while at the same time peering into the crumbling, dark backstage area with exposed pipes and brick. The phantom’s layer – which in the original production is a fantasy-like world of candles, mist and excessive items (for some reason he had a strange mannequin of Christine in a wedding dress), is now more plausible. It’s a hodgepodge of random props, posters and other collectible items from the opera house upstairs – while still rocking the candles and mist.

Derrick Davis and Katie Travis as the Phantom and Christine. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

Derrick Davis and Katie Travis as the Phantom and Christine. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

Christine’s private dressing room is now the rehearsal studio/dressing room for the Corps de Ballet, which looks like a brilliant real life re-creation of Dega’s ballerina paintings. It makes sense, seeing how Christine was one of the ballet dancers. This version, while still a majestic visual treat is also a little easier to tour. For example, the over-the-top gold proscenium with angel statues that flanked the theatre’s proscenium in the original is now part of a painted backdrop in the show’s set. However, I’m still amazed at how this show is able to tour, given the grand nature of some of the sets – most notably the fantastic new staircase that descends into the phantom’s layer.

The late Maria Bjornson’s beautiful costumes are maintained in this production, including a few designs she had created for the original that were never used. And Paule Constable’s lighting design exquisitely completes this visual experience, such as recreating the glow of footlights on the opera stage, and the eerie moonlight to dawn setting of a graveyard. The design team of Brown/Bijornson/Constable is absolutely stellar – one of my personal favourite visuals is the roof of the opera house when Christine and Raoul sing “All I Ask of You” next to gothic-like statues, while snow falls.

Derrick Davis is excellent as the Phantom, with an angel-like voice that soars during “Music of the Night” and is menacing at other times. His descent into darkness near the end of the show, when he crawls on the floor of his layer, collecting his sheet music with his wild hair flailing about, and his deformed Phantom face revealed is very powerful. As Christine, Katie Travis’ crystal clear voice is a treat to listen to and she captures the emotional depth of Christine very well – from her giddy excitement while debuting as a prima donna in “Think of Me”, to her heart wrenching sympathetic verses to the Phantom near the end of the show.

Travis with Jordan Craig as Raoul. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

Travis with Jordan Craig as Raoul. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

For me, the standout performance of the show is the incredible Jordan Craig as Raoul. Craig’s voice is magnificent and his stage presence is commanding. He also offers a wide range of emotions from being strong and protective, dashing and sexy, and passionate and romantic to Christine. One of my favourite moments is when Craig voluntarily falls to the floor to match the level Christine is at after she’s had a panic attack. It was very sweet. Craig will steal your heart with his outstanding performance.

On opening night, former principal ballet dancer Emily Ramirez was unable to perform in the role of Meg Giry. She was replaced by understudy Tara Sweeney, who rocked the house. As predicted Sweeney is an excellent dancer (the show has a group of first-rate female and male dancers who play the ballet chorus of the opera house). However, I was blown away by the quality of her singing as well. The entire cast of dancers are exceptional, showing strong technique and characterization, with the ladies also dancing en pointe. New to this production (at least as far as I know), is the addition of partnering. On opening night there was a great partnering sequence with Ted Keener and Julie Eicher in the Hannibal scene, and there were more partnering inserts throughout the show. The dancers add a beautiful touch to the production.

The show's Corps de Ballet. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

The show's Corps de Ballet. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

The show has been updated from the original 1980’s vision in many ways. For example, gone are some tired stereotypes. In this production, resident prima donna Carlotta is not an overly large woman. Instead, she’s a fabulous, sexy diva played superbly by Trista Moldovan (who has an absolutely stunning voice and stage presence). And stagehand Joseph Buquet is no longer a creepy, deranged looking old man. Now, he’s a ripped hunk, played by Victor Wallace. David Benoit and Edward Staudenmayer are very cute as the two owners of the opera house, Monsieur Firmin and Andre – and for the first time, I got the feeling that they might be a couple!

There are a few elements from the original that I miss. I won’t give any spoilers, but in this production, the infamous chandelier isn’t as dramatic as in the original. And there’s a death that happens near the end of the second act of the original show, that I don’t believe is revealed onstage in this version.

However, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s wonderful score sounds just as magnificent as ever, and the show moves at an excellent pace. Director Laurence Connor has done an outstanding job of re-envisioning the show, with more of a “backstage” look than in the original version. And the cast performances are every bit as dramatic, emotional and authentic as ever. Broadway Across Canada’s production of The Phantom of the Opera is sensational and a true celebration of theatrical magic.

Broadway Across Canada's The Phantom of the Opera runs at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver until July 23. Visit Broadway Across Canada's website for ticket information.