Review: The Phantom of the Opera (Broadway in Chicago)

| January 20, 2014
Cooper Grodin and Julia Udine star in Broadway in Chicago's "Phantom of the Opera," directed by Laurence Connor. (phtoo credit: Matthew Murphy)        
      
The Phantom of the Opera

Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music),
  Charles Hart (lyrics), Richard Stilgoe (book)
Directed by Laurence Connor
Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
thru March 2  |  tickets: $25-$115   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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Surefire crowd pleaser goes beyond chandeliers and spectacle

     

Second Act opener "Masquerade" from Broadway in Chicago's "The Phantom of the Opera," directed by Laurence Connor. (photo credit: Alastair Muir)

    
Broadway in Chicago presents
    
The Phantom of the Opera

Review by Lawrence Bommer

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mega-musical wants very much to be an opera about opera to end opera. Ironically, “Hannibal,” its first-act spoof of a 19th century grand opera of the Meyerbeer persuasion, is no more overwrought or grandiloquent than the show that surrounds it, beloved as it is by countless legions. Like Webber’s early hit Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the score is a pastiche, its ardent homage stretching from Frederick Loewe to Giacomo Puccini.

Julia Udine and Cooper Grodin in Broadway in Chicago's "The Phantom of the Opera," directed by Laurence Connor. (photo credit: Matthew Murphy)As I’ve remarked in my last four reviews of the work, despite the pumped-up passion of “Music of the Night” and “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” (a wish the Phantom always grants), what’s missing between the songs is a (sub)text to make us truly feel the Phantom’s drive to control, and Christine as more than just a fantasy fought over by this Parisian terrorist and his aristocratic rival Raoul. What we learn of the Phantom’s motivation is ludicrously lame: He’s shaking down the Paris Opera House for money while stealing their soprano. Gaston LeRoux’s potboiler creates a kind of “’Beauty and the Beast’ Meets ‘Svengali’,” a glorified stalking saga where obsession outweighs morality. It’s not for nothing that its greatest success till now was as a silent film with Lon Chaney: This melodrama is visceral and visual, not subliminal or contemplative. It’s the ultimate musical for people who hate opera.

Having passed its quarter century and still playing in London (27 years), Broadway, Las Vegas and six touring ventures, the current national tour, opening its cross-country pilgrimage at our Cadillac Palace Theatre, literally re-views this signing spectacle as our eyes marvel at every aspect—above, below, onstage and off—of the Paris Opera House.

Lacking the urgent exposition to make us care what happens next, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterwork, now upgraded in its fifth visit to Chicago and boasting an orchestra of 52, offers what for many is consolation enough and a reason to return–a surefire extravaganza. Dispensing with the alternating massive curtains of the Harold Prince staging and the Piranesi-like catwalks leading to the catacombs below, it aims for realism over lavishness: The opera house’s Beaux Arts proscenium is now within the stage, rather than over it: A revolving turret exposes the Phantom’s literal descent as sudden steps appear to guide Christine to his lair. That somewhat shrunken “man cave” lacks the Cocteau-like underwater arms carrying candelabra (the Phantom’s boat recalling Charon’s passage to the underworld) and the huge gates that barred entrance. The impresarios’ office, however, is larger and much more textured, but the view from the top of the opera house feels as truncated as its opposite beneath. The new look includes the ballet dancers’ dressing room artfully suggesting Degas’ backstage paintings, seven huge flares that intentionally blind the audience, and the Phantom’s generous use of flash pots and smoke grenades to confuse his pursuers.

Cooper Grodin and Julia Udine in Broadway in Chicago's "The Phantom of the Opera," directed by Laurence Connor. (photo credit: Matthew Murphy)
Craig Bennett and Edward Staudenmayer in Broadway in Chicago's "The Phantom of the Opera," directed by Laurence Connor. (photo credit: Alastair Muir) Linda Balgord as Madame Giry in Broadway in Chicago's "The Phantom of the Opera," directed by Laurence Connor. (photo credit: Matthew Murphy)
Julia Udine and Ben Jacoby in Broadway in Chicago's "The Phantom of the Opera," directed by Laurence Connor. (photo credit: Matthew Murphy) Jacquelynne Fontaine as Carlotta in Broadway in Chicago's "The Phantom of the Opera," directed by Laurence Connor. (photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

But, of course, the major pyrotechnics are the powerhouse performances by the Phantom’s Cooper Grodin, his ardent tenor as supplicating as 10,000 valentines and his exposed deformity more wrenching than before, and Julia Udine as his happily harassed protégée, her soaring soprano a promissory note the Phantom wants delivered to the world. (The fact that even when he gets his way, this serial avenger hangs a stagehand and drops a lighting fixture on the innocent crowd is not exactly endearing.)  Ben Jacoby (a Chicago native who’s performed numerous lead roles at Marriott Theatre) ardently depicts the third corner in the triangle; Raoul’s “All I Ask of You” is quite enough to ask for. Bearing similar costumes to past productions, the vast chorus acquit themselves in three burlesques of grand opera and the Phantom’s “Don Juan,” itself a screeching affair despite the persuasive lyricism of “Point of No Return.” Jacquelynne Fontaine reinvents the diva of death as the imperious Italian headliner Carlotta.

Oh yes, the star of the show remains the crashing chandelier (though this realistic “new” one always stays above the audience; it does not reassemble itself after the opening auction scene, then fall almost into the audience before skirting back to the stage).

  
Rating: ★★★
  
   

The Phantom of the Opera continues through March 2nd at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map), with performances Tuesdays at 7:30, Wednesdays 2pm/7:30pm, Thursdays/Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 2pm/8pm, Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $25-$115, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online through Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at BroadwayInChicago.com(Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)

Frank Viveros in Hannibal from Broadway in Chicago's "The Phantom of the Opera," directed by Laurence Connor. (photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

Photos by Matthew Murphy and Alastair Muir 


     

artists

cast

Cooper Grodin (Phantom), Julia Udine (Christine Daaé), Ben Jacoby (Raoul), Jacquelynne Fontaine (Carlotta Giudicelli), Craig Bennett (Monsieur Firmin), Edward Staudenmayer (Monsieur André), Linda Balgord (Madame Giry), Frank Viveros (Ubaldo Piangi), Hannah Florence (Meg Giry), Adam Bashian, Nick Cartell, Dan Debenport, Amy Decker, Mark Emerson, Michael Thomas Holmes, Celia Hottenstein, Christopher Howard, Merritt David Janes, Amy Justman, Edward Juvier, Dustin Layton, Luke Lazzaro, Jay Lusteck, Katie McCreary, Grace Morgan, Christy Morton, Quinto Ott, Eric Ruiz, Allan Snyder, Marguerite Willbanks, Dan Debenport (ensemble, swings), Morgan Cowling, Anjelica Bette Fellini, Ramona Kelley, Abigail Mentzer, Lily Rose Peck, Tara Sweeney, Micki Weiner (Corps de Ballet)

behind the scenes

Laurence Connor (director), David Cullen (orchestrations), Scott Ambler (choreography), Paul Brown (sceneic design), Maria Björnson (costume design), Paule Constable (lighting design), Mick Potter (sound design), Christine Rowland (costume coordinator), Nina Dunn (projection design), John Rigby (musical supervisor), Matthew Bourne Production (production overseer), Seth Sklar-Heyn (asst. director), Nina Goldman (asst. choreographer), Rob Casey, Karen Spahn (asst. lighting design), Adam Fisher (asst. sound design), Christine Peters (asst. scenic design), Jimm Halliday (asst. costume design), Paul Kieve (magic consultant), Angela Cobbin (wig creator), Spencer New (production manager), Eric Sprosty (production stage manager), Thomas Schonberg (artistic consultant), Seth Wenig (executive producer), Cameron Mackintosh, The Really Useful Theatre Company, NETworks Presentations (producers), Matthew Murphy, Alastair Muir (photos)

 

Opera dance by Scott Ambler from Broadway in Chicago's "The Phantom of the Opera," directed by Laurence Connor. (photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

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Category: 2014 Reviews, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Broadway in Chicago, Cadillac Palace Theatre, Lawrence Bommer, Musical, National Tours, Video, YouTube

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