Re-imagined ‘Phantom’ remains a great spectacle


Cooper Grodin, left, and Julia Udine perform "The Music of the Night" from "The Phantom of the Opera." Photo by Matthew Murphy

Cooper Grodin, left, and Julia Udine perform “The Music of the Night” from “The Phantom of the Opera.” Photo by Matthew Murphy

BOSTON — Rarely have a theater and a production been so well-matched.
The Boston Opera House, a former vaudeville palace first known as the B.F. Keith Memorial Theatre, was designed in a combination of French and Italian styles by Thomas White Lamb.
It later became a movie palace and served as the home of the Opera Company of Boston from 1978-1991 before the theater was shuttered and fell into neglect.

 Julia Udine and Ben Jacoby in a scene from "The Phantom of the Opera." Photo by Matthew Murphy

Julia Udine and Ben Jacoby in a scene from “The Phantom of the Opera.” Photo by Matthew Murphy

It subsequently was carefully restored to its full glory, beginning in 2002, re-opening for the 2004 run of “The Lion King.”
Now it is home through July 20 to the North American tour of the “The Phantom of the Opera,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s operetta take on Gaston Leroux’s book, which is set in the Paris Opera House of the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
The staged opera scenes and grand production numbers feel at home in the spacious Boston theater, now hosting a reimagined version of the blockbuster musical that has been seen by more than 130 million people, has a total worldwide gross now in excess of $5.6 billion, and has run for 27 straight years in London and 26 years on Broadway.
It remains — with a cast and orchestra that include 52 members — a theatrical spectacle of the highest order, perhaps matched in this generation only by “Les Miserables.”
The soaring anthems by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber still have the power to move you.
They come one after another, straight from his seemingly inexhaustible supply: “Phantom of the Opera,” “Think of Me,” “All I Ask of You,” “Music of the Night,” and “Masquerade,” to name just a few.
This production features a new design by Paul Brown, the original Tony Award-winning costumes by Maria Björnson, a new staging by director Laurence Connor, and new choreography by Scott Ambler, all overseen by Matthew Bourne and Cameron Mackintosh.
It doesn’t all work; I can recall the crashing chandelier as being much more menacing as it it came down upon me in my seat at the Wang Center — now the Citi Performing Arts Center — before veering stageward.
The staging of the “Masquerade” number that opens the second act seemed more impressive when it was performed on the steps of the Paris Opera House than in the ballroom staging/mirrored ceiling of the new version. And The Phantom’s sudden entrance also seemed more chilling and dramatic then when now, when he emerges as just another party-crasher.
Indeed, his foul deeds don’t seem quite so foul here and the terror/horror aspect of the piece has been muted, while the romantic aspect has been turned up several notches.
Where the new staging has been very effective is conveying the labyrinth that is the Opera House, and the very effective transition to the Phantom’s lair.
Still, there are many pleasures to be had from the skills of the three members of the love triangle: Cooper Grodin as The Phantom, Julia Udine as Christine Daae and Ben Jacoby as a somewhat-muted Raoul.
Grodin is up to the strenuous demands of the role, as is Udine, from the first tenuous moments of “Think of Me” when she explodes onto the scene.
There are times when the dark Gothic mood of the piece is broken , by the put-upon diva Carlotta, played by Jacquelynne Fontaine, who mines the comic aspects of the role for all they’re worth, or by Frank Viveros as Ubaldo, the equally put-upon, imperious tenor, or when the hapless owners of the Opera House who didn’t quite know when they were getting into– Brad Oscar as Monsieur Firmin, and Edward Staudenmayer as Monsieur Andre — react sanguinely to how the Phantom’s deadly antics will affect their box office.
There are many reasons this show’s run has surpassed a quarter century in both the West End and Broadway, and shows no sign of slowing down. Breathtaking spectacle, timeless music and a compelling storyline are almost always in style.
In association with the Really Useful Group, Cameron Mackintosh presents the new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s “The Phantom of the Opera,” Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart. Additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. Book by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber based on the Gaston Leroux novel “La Fantome de l’Opera.” At the Boston Opera House through July 20.