Since its premier in 1986, Andrew Lloyd Weber's The Phantom of the Opera has broken records as the longest-running Broadway musical of all time, and has played San Francisco more than once. It returns to the Orpheum for a six week engagement via SHN through October 4th.
This latest touring incarnation has been pared down a bit from the original production, with fewer elaborate props (no giant elephant during the Hannibal scene), and a simpler set. But what's replaced those sets is still pretty neat: a kind of rolling cylinder that can serve as a spooky backdrop, opens up to reveal various inner sets, and sprouts stairs that lead characters down to the Phantom's subterranean lair. And yes, the chandelier is still there, although this time around it doesn't so much threaten to crush the cast on stage as kill the audience below it. (Those orchestra seats will earn their cost in thrills).
So, while smaller, this Phantom is still a spectacle, which is a good thing. It's not the type of show you could give a minimalist Sweeney Todd approach to because, save for the best —
and most popular songs — a lot of the music is just plain boring, and without the elaborate sets and costumes to back them, would likely put audiences to sleep.
The story remains the same: Christine (Katie Travis), is an opera ingenue who gets her big break when the resident diva storms off the set, in fear of the "ghost" who haunts the opera house. This ghost is, of course, the Phantom (Chris Mann, in the performance I saw), the mysterious masked figure who has been tutoring Christine in music. Christine isn't even sure if the Phantom is real, or all in her mind, but she comes to reality once Raoul (Storm Lineberger), her childhood love, enters the picture.
The Phantom is a little younger in this version, so he's clearly meant to be more of a potential love interest than any kind of father figure for Christine. But the love triangle doesn't completely work. I never bought that Christine was ever torn between the two guys, mainly because the Phantom is, well, a total dick, and kind of a creepy drip as well. I wanted to take the guy aside and tell him to just own that mask! Go the Daft Punk route and never take that thing off. Or just follow Mariah Carey's lead, and only allow your good side to be photographed! The point is, Phantom, if you want the world to accept you, don't be the creepy guy who enters the party in a cloud of smoke, with a fancy mask on, basically confronting people with "WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?!"
The show's biggest problem is it blows its wad in Act One. It's this first act that contains the introduction of the Phantom, the boat trip to his underground home, and the two best songs, "The Music of the Night," and "The Phantom of the Opera." Thankfully, orchestration for the latter hasn't changed much since its very obvious 1986 production, complete with synthesizers and electric guitar chords. It's insanely cheesy, and also completely catchy. I still find myself humming it to myself, days later. Act One also ends with the chandelier scene, and the show never again reaches that moment's fun intensity.
As one would gather from the setting, there's also a lot of opera sung. And while it's all in English, it's at times impossible to understand. I'm not sure if this is the fault of the performers, the compositions themselves, (several include three or more people singing at once, but not in harmony), or the sound production. Regardless, large chunks of the lyrics were unintelligible. Still, The Phantom remains a fun, albeit slightly silly show. But, much like the titular character's cursed mug, one half is a lot more fun than the other.
The Phantom of the Opera plays the Orpheum Theatre through October 4th. Ticket info here.