Review: “The Phantom of the Opera”

RECOMMENDED

Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.
When: through March 2
Tickets: $23-$115
Phone: 800-775-2000

By ANNE SPISELMAN
Theater Critic

Fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” won’t be disappointed by Cameron Mackintosh’s new touring version at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

Although the economics of touring may have dictated some concessions — gone is the grand staircase for “Masquerade,” the second-act opener, for example — this is still a lavish affair with a large ensemble, an able orchestra under the direction of Richard Carsey, elaborate sets (including the infamous chandelier) by Paul Brown, atmospheric lighting by Paule Constable and the Tony Award-winning original costume design by Maria Bjornson. Although some may miss Hal Prince’s iconic staging, going strong on Broadway after more than a quarter of a century, director Laurence Connor deserves praise on several counts.

For one thing, he makes the storytelling clear, and the scenes depicting the Phantom’s (Cooper Grodin) obsession with his young protege, Christine Daae (Julia Udine), and conflict with her suitor Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Ben Jacoby), flow along swiftly, nicely showcasing the parts of the Paris opera house in the process. The play-within-a-play interludes — excerpts from the Opera Populaire’s repertoire plus the Phantom’s “Don Juan” — also are handled with aplomb. In some productions I’ve seen, they’re so deliberately awful, they’re funnier but totally unbelievable. Here, their grandiosity is somewhat restrained, and the diva Carlotta (Jacquelynne Fontaine) and her leading man Ubaldo (Frank Viveros) actually sing quite well. On the other hand, the ballet chorus for these sections isn’t very together, and it’s hard to tell if that’s accidental or on purpose. In other supporting roles, Linda Balgord makes her presence felt as Madame Giry, and Craig Bennett and Edward Staudenmayer display their chops with the Gilbert and Sullivan-esque interplay of Monsieur Firmin and Monsieur Andre, the new owners of the opera house.

All three principals give fairly compelling performances. Grodin’s Phantom effectively transforms from the seductive tutor Christine adores to the enraged, murderous figure she finds repulsive but also pathetic. It’s often as if we’re seeing him through her eyes, and Udine embodies Christine’s vulnerability extremely well and sings beautifully. I found Raoul rather flat and poorly defined, but that may be as much the fault of the script as of the talented Jacoby.

These strengths notwithstanding, Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” will never be one of my favorite musicals. The plot is simplistic and the characters are one-dimensional compared to Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s musical, “Phantom,” and it relies on a handful of swelling romantic melodies that are repeated over and over. Then, again, a lot of theatergoers must love it to keep it going all these years, so if you’re among them, by all means head to the Cadillac Palace.