Considering that “The Phantom of the Opera” has been delighting and thrilling audiences across the world for thirty years now, it seems only fitting that the beloved production should get a little make over. As the beloved show makes another run across North America, that is just what producer, Sir Cameron Mackintosh has given the modern day classic. Audience members who attended a performance of Phantom during the shows run at Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center were in for quite a surprise…especially if they have ever experienced the show in the past.
While the story and songs of Phantom remain ceremonially untouched, the production is given new life with updated sets, costumes, lighting and choreography. Makintosh’s depiction of the Opera Ghost is a much less omniscient figure than in the past. In the previous production, the Phantom’s actions are almost things of magic, whereas in this new telling he is much more human than specter. But even though the audience sees more, it does not remove all of the mystery and complexity of the character. Audience members will not know whether to root for the love scorned genius, or despise the menacing monster until the very end. In moments your heart aches for him, and in others you cringe at his dastardly deeds.
Cosmetically, most of the changes to the production are very successful in breathing new life into the timeless production. Some changes are as simple as a change of perspective. While in years past the audience may have seen things as they happened on the stage of the Paris Opera House, they will now see things as they occurred from the wings of the stage. Audiences will also now be taken from backstage of the theater into the office of the new theater owners to see how the company attempts to deal with its Opera Ghost.
That is not to say that all of the changes won’t leave the Phantom faithful longing for elements of past productions. While the journey to the Phantom’s lair is still breathtaking and haunting, fans may miss the candles rising from the mist as the masked man and Christine glide across the stage by boat. While the reimagined lair is impressive, there is certainly something missing. Another significant change that may leave devoted fans disappointed is the new staging of the “Masquerade” scene. Gone is the impressive stair case, and even more noticeable gone is the Phantom’s elaborate Skeleton costume. The imagery of this scene is one that stands out in the original telling and is truly missed this time around. The grand number seemed unnecessarily scaled down in this new production. Despite these omissions, as well as a few others, Cameron Makintosh’s production still impresses and thrills.
The key to any Phantom performance is the strength of the actor behind the mask. This time around the infamous character was portrayed by Derrick Davis. In order to get the full effect of this dynamic and mysterious figure, the actor must possess both an amazing singing voice and gifted acting ability. Without each, the Phantom simply does not work. The touring company of Phantom more often than not does a fine job of casting the role, but this time around they outdid themselves. Davis’ portrayal of The Phantom may be the most successful yet. The actor brought to life the complexity of the character with the perfect balance of love, vengeance and pain. The singer brought chills as he sang the classic lyrics of Charles Hart. The most poignant moment came as Davis’ voice almost quivered in agony as he sang the reprise of “All I Ask of You.” The scene is just one example of Davis’ ability to draw the audience in on a feeling and to break their heart in the process.
The mask, the chandelier, the haunting overture, the story, the songs… The Phantom of the Opera is so much more than just a show, it is an experience. One that cannot be witnessed too many times. Whether it is the original production from 1986, or the reimagined version of 2016, this production is a timeless treasure. If this tour comes to your city, be sure to buy your ticket and allow yourself to be swept away by the power of The Music of the Night.