The longest running show on Broadway is back in Los Angeles for a spell, this time with a new staging specifically designed with touring in mind. The Phantom of the Opera has been a musical theater mainstay since its West End debut in 1986, and with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart, and book by Webber and Richard Stilgoe, the quivering chandelier and striking first chords of the overture remain iconic. Based on the French novel of the same name by Gaston Leroux, this production leans into a moody tone that emphasizes the cavernous backstage atmosphere of the Paris Opera House and adds new set pieces that are different from iterations you have seen before.
The story follows Christine Daaé (Eva Tavares), a young ingenue soprano. She has been performing at the Paris Opera House as a member of the chorus, but has a strong musical background, her late father having been an esteemed violinist. Christine also has an admirer—the mysterious man living somewhere deep beneath the theater, a man who has become known as the Phantom (Derrick Davis). A musical prodigy himself, the Phantom has been giving Christine singing lessons, which she has attributed to a story her father once told her about how an “angel of music” would visit her and guide her after his death. But the reality is far more sinister than that—the Phantom is determined the Opera House be run as he sees fit, and when new owners do not follow his demands, terrible misfortunes begin befalling those who work at the theater. After nearly falling victim to one of the Phantom’s potentially deadly pranks, Carlotta (Trista Moldovan), the company’s long-running star soprano, quits in protest, leading to Christine performing the lead role and becoming an overnight star. But when Raoul (Jordan Craig), her childhood paramour, begins to vie for her affection, the Phantom’s unspeakable jealousy could spell disaster for all involved.
This new production, presented by Cameron Mackintosh and directed by Laurence Connor with choreography by Scott Ambler, is not anything extremely different from previous iterations, but there are a few moments where Phantom diehards may notice a change. Perhaps most notably, the grand staircase that once housed “Masquerade,” the triumphant act two opener, is gone, replaced by an opulent hall of mirrors. Mackintosh has said he was aiming for a more organic and realistic feel that fleshes out the sprawling nature of the Opera House, with all its nooks and crannies. The journey Christine takes to the Phantom’s lair is also reimagined—a 10-ton cylindrical wall at center stage serves many purposes throughout the show, rotating, opening, or transforming as needed, but here, stairs emerge from it, creating the effect of the central pair descending into the bowels of the building. Don’t worry, the chandelier still drops—in fact, it drops faster than it used to, thanks to technological advances.
This story has always asked a lot of the audience in terms of suspension of disbelief and being willing to overlook cliches. The Phantom is badly disfigured, a cringeworthy trope seen too frequently in villainous characters. But the show tries desperately not to paint him as a villain, despite the fact that he murders at least one man and kidnaps Christine against her will, more than once. Much of the love triangle’s success or failure falls to the actors, and Tavares was the standout of the main three here, with a gorgeous soprano and star quality that makes it immediately apparent why she would be plucked from the chorus to become a leading lady. At times, the acoustics and music direction made it challenging to hear the women over the men, but her voice blended nicely with Davis’s. He makes a strong Phantom, belting out the difficult score fairly seamlessly and creating an appropriately menacing presence. Craig feels miscast as Raoul, coming across as smarmy and possessive rather than wholesome and chivalrous. But Christine’s problematic love life aside, fans of this show and its instantly recognizable score will be pleased with this production, which preserves all of the classic elements while refreshing some of the staging so that it feels like something just a little bit new.
The Phantom of the Opera runs at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through July 7th. The running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission. Tickets start at $42 and can be purchased here. After LA, this tour will play Costa Mesa, Honolulu, and Fort Worth, among other cities. For information and to purchase tickets for those stops, click here. The Phantom is also currently playing on Broadway and on the West End, as well as in many other cities around the world—information on all productions can be found here.