Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh’s The Phantom of the Opera is yet another production to add to the list of 80s musical makeovers (Carrie The Musical and Les Misérables, both presented by Hennepin Theatre Trust this year). As I wrote in my review of the “re-imagined” production of Les Misérables, I was concerned about the changes, which turned out to be only partly unfounded. I didn’t feel that way on Wednesday, December 18 about the new production of The Phantom of the Opera at the Orpheum Theatre. Theatergoers (i.e. me) fell in love all over again (or for the first time) with the magic of the show—the chandelier that hangs over the audience through the intermission, the masquerade at the beginning of Act II, and the entrancing music.
The 1986 version of The Phantom of the Opera, derived from the French novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, is about an “opera ghost” who lives in the Opera Populaire (he signs his many micro-managey correspondences to the owners “O.G.”). The Phantom is actually not a ghost, but a musical genius that teaches Christine Daaé—a dancer—how to sing, and she eventually becomes the star of the company. When asked who her teacher is, she says she doesn’t know his name. There’s a definite Stockholm-syndrome feeling between Christine and The Phantom; when he takes her down to his lair and lays her down in his bed to tuck her in, it’s weird. The plot thickens when Raoul and Christine, childhood friends, reconnect, creating a full-blown love triangle.
The story alone is bizarre, but it’s the music that makes Phantom great. The new production focuses on modernizing the set design (by Paul Brown), but the music remains untouched. Mark Campbell as The Phantom, Julia Udine as Christine and Ben Jacoby as Raoul do justice to classics like “Think of Me,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” and a personal favorite “The Music of the Night.” Shows like The Phantom that date back to the 1980s need a makeover; even though The Phantom takes place in the 19th century, it’s still important to update the costumes (Maria Björnson) and the set (Paul Brown) and to generally take advantage of resources that weren’t available in the 80s. The “newly imagined” Phantom simply updates its look to avoid being dated (back to the 80s, at least).
The gentleman seated next to me came equipped with his binoculars and used them throughout the show (for reference, we were on the lower level). But The Phantom of the Opera dazzles from its overall ambiance on stage down to the orchestra pit, and you don’t need a close look to appreciate it.
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