‘Phantom’ more than passes the test of the time at the Detroit Opera House
DETROIT – In the famous title song from The Phantom of the Opera, the eponymous anti-hero croons, “Sing once again with me our strange duet. My power over you grows stronger yet.” Although he is taunting our heroine, Christine Daaé, there is a certain irony in the lyrics; Phantom clearly holds its fans in thrall, and this commanding new production is hauntingly irresistible.
Note that the original version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, produced by Cameron Mackintosh, continues as the longest-running production on Broadway – 28 phenomenal years and still going strong. But this new production, overseen by Cameron Mackintosh and choreographer Matthew Bourne, finds a winning formula – they keep the best and improve the rest. The soaring music and the heartbreaking story are treated with reverence by a wonderfully robust orchestra and gifted cast of dancers and singers. However, the new design by Paul Brown, with staging by director Laurence Connor, is even more sumptuous and scaled to gigantic proportions; each graphically arresting scene change heightens the drama. Less of the action happens upstage, and this subtle shift in proximity furthers audience engagement.
The Phantom’s return to his lair is achieved by descending a giant tower with a magical bridge and stairs that appear on his summons. This tower revolves and unfolds to reveal myriad sets within the opera house – each with delightful period detail. The beloved “Masquerade” scene, originally set on the grand staircase of the Paris Opera House, now happens in a ballroom lined with ominous statues and angled mirrors that beguile the eye. As the costumed dancers swish back and forth, we keep expecting the Phantom to pop out, which adds to the tension. And as groups of dancers rotate downstage, it also gives us a better look at the extraordinary costumes – the original designs by Maria Björnson – which can only be considered a bonus. There are many other visual wonders in this new show – including plenty of pyrotechnics – and the chandelier scene does not disappoint.
Of course, true Phantom of the Opera fans return time and again for the glorious music, and this production rewards that loyalty. Katie Travis, as Christine Daaé, captures the required combination of ingénue sincerity and unbridled talent. Interestingly, Trista Moldovan, who sings the nemesis role of Carlotta with great diva authority, sang the Christine role in earlier productions. Jordan Craig, as Raoul, is everything we want in a leading man – a swashbuckler with a rich tenor. And then there is the Phantom. Derrick Davis somehow extends the dynamic range of his interpretation by letting the Phantom’s first notes seem tentative, almost apologetic. The effect is that when he puts his full power into the voice, it brings goosebumps. His anger powers the rumbling low notes; his sorrow rises like a candle flame into searing high notes. It is a captivating, emotionally charged performance that demands our empathy for a gifted, twisted soul.
If you’ve never seen the Phantom of the Opera, this Broadway in Detroit production, staged at the Detroit Opera House, is a nice place to start. If you are a loyal Phantom fan, you will be well served to join the 2.5 million people across North America who have already enjoyed this new, spectacle-filled production.