By Kimberly Rau
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s re-imagined Phantom of the Opera, which kicked off its first national tour in Providence in 2013, is back at PPAC through Sunday, and if you missed it the first time, you may want to head over before it closes.
If you’ve only seen the original production or heard the original cast recordings, fear not: The music is the same, as are the story line and most of the costumes. However, the stage design has been completely overhauled and turned into a rotating cylinder that can open and close, much like a music box (which, fans will know, is a call back to a small but significant prop–which has also been overhauled to match the new design). The set, designed by Paul Brown, is cleverly designed and makes for fast scene changes, including a really inventive journey into the phantom’s underground lair. Several scenes have been re-blocked as well, which serve to heighten the mood: “The Music of the Night” is finally at least a little sensual, for example. The graveyard in which Christine sings “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” is less cold but far more creepy, and what “Masquerade” loses in jettisoning the staircases full of brightly costumed actors and dummies it gains in the form of a beautiful mirrored backdrop. The chandelier, a ton of plastic cut to look like crystal and lights, freefalls within feet of the audience’s head (versus slowly drifting to the stage in the previous version). There’s lots to see here, and almost all of it is an improvement on what was already a pretty solid show.
If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, essentially, the Phantom, a disfigured magician, inventor and musical genius, has been merrily torturing the proprietors of the Paris Opera House, where he falls in love with the beautiful chorus girl, Christine Daae. He takes her under his tutelage and teaches her to sing, but becomes jealous when her childhood sweetheart Raul shows back up, intent on rekindling an old flame. There’s mayhem, murder, and questionable affection (is it love? Or obsession? Or the remnants childhood trauma?), and the ending leaves the Phantom’s fate open to interpretation. (Or at least, it did, before the godawful “Love Never Dies” sequel made its debut, but like many fans, this reviewer prefers to pretend that never happened.)
The cast in this tour is fantastic. The Phantom, Quentin Oliver Lee, is tall, powerful, and has the perfect voice for the role. He’s scary but sympathetic enough that you understand why Christine is so tortured by having to choose between Raul and him. Eva Tavares plays Christine, and the night I was there, had something of a rough Act 1, but by the start of Act 2, whether it was the sound system or tired vocal cords, the problem had disappeared and Tavares was a joy to listen to, especially in the haunting “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.” On press night, understudy Michael Maliakel stepped in as a sympathetic Raul who doesn’t veer too far towards pompous, preferring instead to play the part as boyish and somewhat naïve. It’s a pleasant change over some other interpretations. And Susan Moniz, a Rhode Island native, returns to PPAC as the impeccable Madame Giry. If you were lucky enough to see her in the “Fun Home” tour last year, then you already know what a talent she is, and she shines in the role of a harsh ballet mistress this time around. Her voice is easily one of the best on the stage.
In short, this Phantom is a treat for the senses and does not disappoint. Catch it before it’s on its way out of town again.
The Phantom of the Opera runs through March 31 at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets can be obtained at the box office, online at ppacri.org, or by calling 401.421.2787