It’s a classic love story triangle: talented but untrained young ingénue with daddy issues takes music lessons from brilliant and mysterious music teacher with some serious self-esteem problems. His tutoring allows her to reach the top of her field, but along the way he falls hard for her. She curves him and falls for an old bae instead. Music teacher does not take it well: he gets real murder-y and starts dropping chandeliers. Hilarity ensues. Okay, not hilarity, more like incredible singing and dancing.
That’s right: The Phantom of the Opera is back in town.
When Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical hit the stage in 1986, it was the Hamilton of its day. It won seven Tony awards and is the longest running Broadway show in history, having been the first musical to reach 10,000 performances. Supported by a cast and orchestra of 52 people, it is one of the largest productions on tour in North America. Now Phantom has returned to the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago in a brand new production by Cameron Mackintosh and will run through January 8, 2017.
This new production is gorgeous and lush. The costumes are ornate with deep golds, greens and reds, fitting that the story is set in the golden age—Paris during La Belle Epoche. The ballerinas are a nod to Edgar Degas’ famous paintings. Carlotta Giudicelli’s transformation into Marie Antoinette for the opera-in-an-opera, Il Muto, is lovely. The set design is fantastic with an incredible staircase with retractable steps that leads to the Phantom’s underground labyrinth lair that holds his steampunk inspired organ. The famous chandelier, Lot Number 666, drops perilously close, dangling over the first three or four rows, inviting Chicago theater-goers to join the show as the audience of the Paris Opera House. The “new” part of the production undoubtedly involves the coordination of pyrotechnics that explode throughout the second half of the show. There is even a weeping angel, an unintentional (?) wink to Doctor Who fans.
While the set and costumes are delicious, the real star of this show, of course, is the music. Just as glorious as the first time I listened to the soundtrack on my cassette player in the late ‘80s, Lloyd Webber’s combination of opera and traditional musical songs in Phantom’s score is epic and timeless. It is sweeping and gothic, supported by a full orchestra. Conductor Dale Rieling even has a few spoken lines in the show. This cast handled the challenges of the music in the best sort of way: they made it seem effortless. A Broadway Phantom veteran, Trista Moldovan stole every scene she was in as Carlotta Giudicelli. Katie Travis as Christine Daaé made the female lead role look easy, especially delightful when playing the comedic roles in the operas-in-the-opera. Derrick Davis, in the eponymous role, is so good and powerful as the Phantom that one can almost overlook that he murders several people and tries to force Christine into an unwanted relationship by threatening to kill her beloved Raoul.
If the owners of this show continue to pair Lloyd Webber’s enduring score with phenomenal singers and the latest in performance technology, it is easy to imagine that The Phantom of the Opera will be on the stage for at least another thirty years.