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THEATER REVIEW The Phantom of the Opera
by Eric Karas
2016-12-28

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Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics: Chris Hart, with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. Book: Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber. At: Cadillac Palace Theater. Tickets: BroadwayInChicago.com: $50-140. Runs through: Jan. 8

Watch out for falling chandeliers!

Phantom is back in Chicago for a four-week engagement at the Cadillac Palace. This is the reimagined staging and scenic design version for the tour, not the Hal Prince version that is the longest-running Broadway musical on Broadway. Most people won't notice the difference and it's the same famous Webber score.

The beginning of the original Phantom is one of my favorite parts, as the broken chandelier comes to life and reassembles to its former glory over the audience. In this version, it isn't quite as grand. However, when it's time for its dramatic decent later I totally liked that moment. Yes, I'm reviewing the chandelier—it is Phantom, after all.

The other "let down" from the original is the masquerade number. Usually, it's on a big staircase full of a huge cast; in this production, it's the cast in masks in front of a mirror—and it's not quite as dazzling. Also, the phantom's entrance here is also not as exciting. This is one change I didn't like at all. The other change that doesn't work is in the graveyard. Usually, the phantom is up above the couple, threatening them; here, he is on the same level they are—making the threat very, um, non-threatening. You're waiting for Raoul to just punch out the phantom.

Now that those negatives are out of the way, let's get to the positives. This production is very sumptuous and you feel you get your money's worth. There is a very cool spinning tube-like structure that lots of the staging comes from, and I enjoyed watching it. Also, the descent of the staircase to the sewers of Paris was fun, and we get our iconic boat-in-the-dry-ice moment. I also loved the dramatic way the opera house spun together.

The music is the beloved Andrew Lloyd Webber score. There's not much to say about it except the scenes where all the people are on stage together. Singing different things at the same time remains confusing and gets old fast. He's much better with the ballads. The funny thing is the Phantom of the Opera song really betrays when it was written. Its 1980s synthesizer sound stands out like a sore thumb from the score. It's a moment that is funny but also so iconic I wouldn't have it any other way.

Derrick Davis, as the phantom, seemed less menacing or creepy than others who have performed in the same role. In his favor, his phantom seems sweeter and more vulnerable. You can understand Christine's compassion for him. Katie Travis plays Christine as the sleepwalking victim she is. It's a challenging role and she hits the right notes literally. Jordan Craig—as her love interest, Raoul—has a masculine charm and never veers into camp, which could easily be done. Trista Moldovan was a fine opera diva as Carlotta, but she could chew the scenery a little more for my tastes.

Overall, it's a very lush production with great sets, costumes and effects. It's nice to see after so many recent projection disappointments or simply set musicals. The whole affair is so iconic that it makes for enjoyable entertainment. Like seeing the King of Siam waltz or Professor Harold Hill lead a children's band, sometimes you want to see a broken-hearted phantom and a vertically challenged chandelier. If you're a fan, go see it.


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