Play Review: “The Phantom of the Opera”

Mackintosh’s new production of “The Phantom of the Opera” turns the beloved production into a true musical spectacle.

Rating:  4.5/5.0

Directed by: Laurence Connor

Written by: Andrew Lloyd Webber

Starring: Chris Mann, Katie Travis, Storm Lineberger

Runs: Oct. 7 to Oct. 18

Location: San Diego Civic Theatre

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Broadway longest-running musical “The Phantom of the Opera,” and the “spectacular new production” by Cameron Mackintosh has finally arrived in San Diego. The difficulty of completing the show both vocally and technologically, along with the audience’s high expectations, make it a huge challenge to develop a new version that is comparable to the original production, which is still being performed in New York and London. Yet the majority of those who have seen the show claim this production is the best since the 1986 musical by Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford. With the help of new technology, this production does an even better job in terms of bringing incredible visual enjoyment to the audience.

The story is still the same impressive love triangle that centers around Christine Daae (Katie Travis), a beautiful yet naive soprano; the Phantom (Chris Mann), a doleful, complicated musical genius and Raoul Vicomte de Chagny (Storm Lineberger), Christine’s other suitor. In this version, however, it has become more intense, tragic and glorious. While the plot remains unchanged, it is the thrill of stage effects and passion in the songs that makes the show sublime.

One thing that first captures the public’s attention is the stage design, which has definitely improved in accordance with today’s audiences’ taste. There is a huge, cylindrical fixture that rotates around the stage, changing the backgrounds in a much more effective way. This largely reduces the time of interval between every two scenes. The iconic chandelier is, of course, hanging above the audience. The exciting part is that the blinking crystal chandelier is even more extravagant and closer to the audience than the ones in previous versions of the play. As a result, the audience feels like they are a part of show when the chandelier falls down – they can’t help screaming, though there is no real danger. Later in the show, an even more striking stage effect is used: real flames and sparks suddenly appear on the stage when The Phantom is infuriated, enabling people to realize what a dangerous figure he is in the story.

While the orchestration and music is the same, the new cast performs the songs more energetically, and the music is made more affettuoso in the new production. This contributes to the intensity of the show and constantly excites the audience. Nevertheless, the original version is more captivating in the actors’ graceful voices and sophisticated acting. The new version would have been more impressive vocally if the emotions of the characters were conveyed more meticulously. A more sentimental performance with a slower pace from time to time would provide a break for the audience from all the excitement the play brings.

This is indeed a spectacular production, and it is energetic, funny, thrilling, and touching at the same time. It is very likely to attract new audiences who have not seen “Phantom” before with its unprecedented visual effects and expressive performance. Travis and Mann know how to create a refreshing and romantic ambience in the show by bringing more youth to the classic story. They are trying something different with a more striking visual aspect, while respecting the long-loved original.