Broadway San Jose kicks off the 2016-2017 season with Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic and 30 year running Broadway favorite The Phantom of the Opera.
The Phantom of the Opera tells the story of a young, beautiful opera singer, Christine (played in this show by Kaitlyn Davis) who is stuck in the middle of two men vying for her affection. On one side is the Phantom of the Opera (Chris Mann), a mythical figure who woos Christine from afar, always careful to hide his true identity. Just as the relationships with the Phantom intensifies, her childhood friend Raul (played by Storm Lineberger) returns to win her love.
Christine loves Raul, but she is afraid of what will happen if she rebuffs his advances. At it’s core, The Phantom of the Opera is a creepy story. A powerful and omnipresent Phantom (Chris Mann), haunts the Paris Opera House, threatening to cause more mayhem if his advances toward Christine are not reciprocated. He obsesses over her and threatens to harm anyone who does not put her in the starring role of every show. He makes demands and when they are not met, people die. In a desperate attempt to win Christine’s affections, the Phantom kidnaps her and brings her to his lair. She is scared, but strangely drawn to him, until she discovers his secret. He is horribly disfigured. She cannot even look at him and demands to be freed. He tells her, “Fear can turn to love”.
Previous versions of the show have played up the sex appeal of the Phantom, or have highlighted the pain he feels living as a disfigured genius. Mackintosh’s version goes darker. Much darker. I can appreciate this as I have always thought the story is a little twisted. Fear is not my idea of love. The problem with calling this out in a Broadway production though is that the core elements of the show go out the window. It is hard to feel sympathetic towards the Phantom. The love story is just not there.
The other very difficult part of the show had to do with the staging. You cannot compare a traveling show to a Broadway sized production, but many other shows have very successfully scaled the staging to fit a smaller theater. This was not the case with The Phantom of the Opera. The ensemble scenes were cramped and movements seemed stifled and reserved, as to not accidentally hit the person next to you. What the scenery lacked in scale was somewhat mitigated by the very innovative rotating stage. Like a doll house, every rotation and door opening invited the audience into a new scene. Still, the circle swallowed so much of the stage that every scene within it seemed to tight and crowded.
The show was not all bad. The costuming was exquisite. The colors and textures were lush and full of detail. Several of the costumes are on display in the theater lobby to admire before the show and during intermission.
The female leads were also fantastic. Kaitlyn Davis started out vocally shaky, but hit her stride around the second number and only got stronger as the show went on. Rival soprano Carlotta, (played by Jacqueline Fontaine) stole every scene she was in. The opening performance of Act 2, Masquerade was not only performed beautifully by all, but was also another chance to dazzle with costumes and for once the staging felt more open thanks to the usage of mirrors.
Die-hard fans of the show will either love the darker, grittier take on this classic, or will find themselves missing the grander, more romantic version of the original. Either way, it is a classic that will surely garner enough of a following to make this season opener a success for Broadway San Jose.
The Phantom of the Opera is playing now through October 2 at The Center for Performing Arts (255 Almaden Blvd.). Tickets are available now via www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-982-ARTS (2787)