'The Phantom of the Opera' Amps Up For A New Audience

Grab your fancy attire and head to Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa for the new PHANTOM OF THE OPERA production.  The Phantom returns more spectacular than ever with incredible jaw-dropping special effects and massive ever-changing sets that will leave you impressed at each transition. This ultimate refresh brings magic back to an already audience favorite. The endless list of recognizable songs and iconic scenes remain with subtle rearrangements and brand-new staging.  It’s sure to capture the hearts of many newcomers and regain the love of fans of the original.

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Andrew Lloyd Webber’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has been playing to mesmerized crowds on Broadway since 1988 and for two years longer in London.  Approaching 30 years, one may wonder why and already beloved show even needs a new production.  Quite frankly, it doesn’t, but this doesn’t make Matthew Bourne and Cameron Makintosh’s new “adaptation” any less wonderful than the original.

I fortunately saw this with someone not terribly familiar with the film nor the original production.  You could see her falling in love with it just as I turned to see her reaction after the first Act.  While impressed, she also felt the same as my praise mentioned in my opening paragraph.  Many will be sorely disappointed if they aren’t accepting of any change.  Plenty of lyrics are gone, the vocals are clearly adjusted, and the stage direction altered; the very core of the show however is in tact!

If you understand that there are differences, the slight shock may not impact you. For those that are NOT common theater-goers should not be affected.  I’ve seen and heard PHANTOM OF THE OPERA plenty, but I am not one to be able to recall each scene and it’s tempo changes.

With a little less operetta (yes, there appears more spoken word), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA still centers around the leering Phantom (Chris Mann) that eaves over the productions of a 19th century Paris opera house (now taking place in 1911), only to hideout in his dark murky dungeon-ess home beneath between rehearsals.  As a new show takes shape, the Phantom takes interest in a talented vocalists Christine Daae (Katie Travis).  Wearing a mask to hide his disfigurement and scars, the Phantom puppeteers the directors into giving Christine the leading role, but after a powerfully romantic song-bursting introduction Christine falls for another man, Raoul (Storm Lineberger).  Worried he’ll lose her, the Phantom tries to woo her to his side while Raoul intervenes.

During the Phantom schemes comes much of the magic as he interacts with people who rehearse above his home.  The iconic chandelier returns with more special effects, though perhaps not as grand as before, much more impressive in my opinion.  There are new surprises around every turn of a set as the introduction the Phantom hideaway brings along a very creative curved set-piece that’s used for most of the musical.

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I wish there was more I could say, but there mere shock of it all is what makes it so astonishing.  I’ll try not spoil it for you.  The sets and production value is what sets this new production of this show apart.  The grand reveal of the Phantom’s decrepit room or the ornate backdrop of the opening of Act II with “Masquerade” will say it all.  Set designer Paul Brown pulled out all the stops.

I had a chance to sit down with some of the cast last summer.  I spoke with ERIC RUIZ (King Lear, South Pacific) who plays multiple roles including The Phantom and CELIA HOTTENSTEIN (National tour debut, 2013 graduate of The Boston Conservatory) who plays Princess and understudy for Christine Daae.

I first asked what they both thought people will enjoy most about this new amped up production.  HOTTENSTEIN started off explaining how both productions are very different despite the same music and costumes.

HOTTENSTEIN: What I think they are going to like about this production is it’s a darker grittier production so they get a little slice of the backstage of the opera house and it’s more true to life. The phantom is as magical as he is in the Broadway production, you see a real man.  You get to see how he ticks, and into his psyche, why he does the things he does.  You have the same show but told in two very different ways.

Me: This is such a pivotal, iconic role; do you find it kind of surreal for both you to be in a role like this?

RUIZ: You know, this is a child hood dream come true first of all, and then I think you really you have to get to your brass tax.  You know ‘I’m here. This is amazing. I am in the amazing role that I always wanted to play’ and that’s all great and wonderful and has its place too, but there is also so much work.  There is so much of a technical aspect to the show that you have to be right on your mark for too, so it’s challenging at the same time.

It’s a show that in certain aspects is made with stage combat, fights that are out of control and have to be choreographed so distinctly that must play the same every night, which is a challenge to do something like that and [still] make it look like a mess…

Also, with this being such a BIG show it takes such a large support team to make everything look good.  He went on to state how for every cast member there has 1-5 people to support because of the costumes, wigs, make-up and all the technical aspect as well.  They have 21 semi-trucks to bring this show to fruition! That’s a HUMONGOUS production.

To have show at this magnitude, the show must have a large support team.  For every cast member there are 1-5 people to support because of the costumes, wigs, make-up and all the technical aspect as well.  They have 21 semi-trucks to bring this show to fruition! That’s a HUMONGOUS production.

Most of you are familiar with the music and incredible vocal performances that this musical is known for, but the grandesque production behind it over shines the show we already know.  Not necessarily a problem as instead we are treated to well-rounded show with great aspects to everything.

The music though… THE MUSIC. It’s PHANTOM people; you love it.  That first arc in “Angel of Music” brings chills of joy, “The Phantom of Opera” still wows as it folds into the rest of the infamous songs.  But with that being said, there are differences that may make your ears perk-up.  Christine and the Phantom appear to both be an octave higher losing much of the deep powerful bustiness we accustomed to. At times Chris Mann, best known for his performance on The Voice, even seemed a bit whiny, but I don’t think at fault to him, but the direction of the show.

The first Act sails right through as soon as the Phantom is introduced.  It will immersive you into the opera house right up to the dramatic first act finale.  The second Act however falls a little flat that I find the music partly to blame. What? Blasphemy right? I’ll admit that the second half suffers from similar sounding songs that become a repetitive, but nothing to have a qualm over.

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THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is just epic and more of a classy night out on the town.  The new production is still a worthy show and warranted.  I still don’t understand why it was needed, but I’m not complaining.  Andrew Llyod Webber’s music and story remains. That’s all that truly matters in this case.  It had everything I wanted including new wow-moments while retaining the nostalgia of solid 30-year-old classic.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is playing at Segerstrom Center of the Arts in Costa Mesa until August 16th.

For more information visit SCFTA.org.

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Joel Covey
Joel has been writing for SoCalThrills for the past decade covering entertainment, events, and theater since joining the site. He is a CSUF alum, studying within the Communication and Radio / TV / Film colleges.