By Manning Harris
The Fifth Third Bank’s Broadway in Atlanta series has brought “The Phantom of the Opera” back to the Fox, where it will run through Nov. 2.
The Phantom last visited us in 2010, in what we were told was a “farewell tour.” I doubted that then, and here we are, with the Fox once more doubling as the grand old Paris Opera House.
You probably know that “Phantom” is the longest running show in Broadway history—over 25 years and still playing. In terms of world wide sales, it’s also the most successful. For sheer lush theatricality, soaring music, and tragic, grand romance it is unsurpassed.
There are those who don’t care for much for composer Andrew Lloyd Webber; makes no difference. It’s like a gnat gnawing at Mount Everest: “The Music of the Night,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “All I Ask of You,” and “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” are now timeless, beloved anthems that will outlast us all.
However, I must issue some caveats: Original designer Maria Bjornson has died and super-producer Cameron Mackintosh says that before she passed, “She and I discussed a different set design, one that would do more to contrast the Phantom’s darker backstage world with that of the traditional opera world onstage.”
Also, Mackintosh says that Webber and he decided that it was time to give the show a “fresh look.”
Uh-oh. You don’t argue with success—make that mega-success. You don’t repaint the Mona Lisa, as my companion said the evening we saw the show.
I must report that I don’t like any of the changes. I am among “Phantom’s” longtime fans, having seen it on Broadway in 1989, just a year after it opened. Also, I must say that the 2010 touring show I mentioned earlier was close to perfection in cast and execution—it was truly breathtaking.
More ominous still, associate director Seth Sklar-Heyn reports that the actors have had a “certain freedom to put an individual stamp on their characters,” according to Julie Bookman’s article in the program.
Quite frankly, the actors here aren’t up to that. Cooper Grodin’s Phantom seems tentative in crucial moments when he should be anything but. The same can be said, to a lesser extent, to Julia Udine’s Christine. It’s as if new director Lawrence Connor has sort of left them on their own.
It’s as though the main characters, and the show itself, have become doppelgangers of their original selves. The brilliant number “Masquarade,” which opens Act II, used to have a grand staircase for the gloriously costumed celebrants; that’s gone. The fabulously draped, lush theatrical curtains, which hide the stage when the audience enters, have been replaced by a cobweb!
Okay, if you’ve never seen the show, I think you’ll still be entranced; “Phantom” has too many thrill factors in its favor, too many exotic visual treats. The orchestra is lovely; the voices still soar. And I still tear up at “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” as I think about some good friends who are gone.
Interestingly, the current Broadway production has not been changed at all. Let’s face it—we’re “the road,” the provinces, and they are trying us out. But if you saw the 2010 version at the Fox, I can’t find a compelling reason to urge you to see this one. If you’re a “Phantom” virgin and want to see this historic show, go. You literally won’t know what you are missing.
For tickets and information, visit foxtheatre.com.