By Erika Brown Thomas
The Phantom of the Opera is a well-loved Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that has entranced audiences with its tale of tragedy, love and music since its premiere in London in 1986. The latest Broadway in Chicago touring production continues the tradition of excellence with an epically large 52-member cast and orchestra.
Paul Brown’s incredible set design channels the ingenuity of Gothic architects of the romantic era. The set pays homage to the original designs, yet this new production re-imagines just enough of the look to give the show a fresh take. The design, paired with Paule Constable’s remarkable lighting design, beautifully captures the vacillating pull between darkness and the light inherent in the telling of this story. Together, they have truly created a world where the “man behind the mask” lurks, schemes and dreams. Without revealing any spoilers, audience members who love Phantom should see this show to witness what this spectacular new production does with this story, and those who have never experienced Phantom before shouldn’t miss this opportunity to enjoy this epic production. (A synopsis, production history and a plethora of information about the 1988 Tony Award-winning Best Musical may be read here.)
Derrick Davis gives a performance not to be missed. He plays the Phantom with the gravitas and mystery necessary for the title role of this thrilling story. Somehow, his characterization of the Phantom is simultaneously appealing and revolting, just as he should be. His singing of “Past the Point of No Return” is especially riveting.
Katie Travis (Christine Daaé) is a soprano extraordinaire, with effortless high notes that sustain and soar over the orchestra. One can’t help compare her performance to those who made the role famous years ago, and Travis doesn’t disappoint. Her clear soprano is just what the character calls for, illuminating the story with each new turn. While still paying tribute to traditional portrayals of Christine, she brings new life and vigor to the role.
Jordan Craig is the dashing love interest, Raoul Vicomte de Chagny. Those interested in a face to fall in love with will find Craig’s Raoul as irresistible as the character Christine does. While his handsome looks certainly help, it is his resonant, rich tenor that really draws the audience in. The famous duet All I Ask of You felt as passionate as ever. Craig is certainly a standout in this production.
Carlotta Giudicelli, played by Trista Moldovan, and Ubaldo Piangi, played by Phumzile Sojola, are the Italian operatic divas and play them to the stereotypical hilt. They both play the characters in serious, devoted terms, which not only highlights the humor of their storylines, but also adds a touch of pity to their characters. Both Moldovan and Sojola have the singing chops to play big operatic roles, and their voices swell their prowess on the stage.
David Benoit and Price Waldman play the business savvy opera managers, Messrs. Firmin and André respectively, with a touch of whimsy. They are a delight to watch as they talk back and forth with each other and the other characters. Their relationships on stage have nuance and repartee that helps bring humor, a light heartedness, and cleverness to what can sometimes be a very dark show.
The mother and daughter duo, Madame Giry and Meg (Anne Kanengeiser and Emily Ramirez) also deserve recognition for their performances in this fabulous production. Their singing is superb, leaving the audience wanting even more from these women.
Lastly, when seeing the show, be sure to take special notice of entrancing work of Nina Dunn, who designed the video and projection designs for the production. Her work is part of the tapestry of the production, woven in so simply, easily, and effectively.
And, of course, just wait for the chandelier to drop. Tied with the pulsing music of the organ and orchestra, one can’t help but be consumed by the music of the night.
Broadway in Chicago presents “The Phantom of the Opera” through January 8 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.