The Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s phenomenally successful megamusical about a beastly genius who plays Svengali to a beautiful soprano, opened as the first-ever show at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts on a dark and stormy night 23 years ago.
On Friday — another dark and stormy night — a reconceived Phantom had its official opening at the Fort Lauderdale venue, itself recently redone. The show with the lush score, romantic sensibility and extravagant design will be there through Nov. 30, though if you want to see the stars who have toured with the show for the past year, you have to hurry: As of Tuesday, Chris Mann (a finalist on The Voice), Katie Travis and Storm Lineberger take over the roles of the Phantom, Christine and Raoul from Cooper Grodin, Julia Udine and Ben Jacoby.
Theater is, of course, an interpretive art form. Classic, successful plays and musicals that stand the test of time will always be alluring to new generations of artists who find their own creative connections to the material. Udine, the current tour’s compelling Christine (she’ll join the Broadway production mid-December), wasn’t even born when The Phantom of the Opera debuted in London in 1986 (nor when the show opened the Broward Center in 1991).
So it isn’t surprising that producer Cameron Mackintosh, the man behind Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Cats, the original Phantom of the Opera and so many other successful musicals, is enthused about working with new theater colleagues on reinterpretations of his great successes.
Phantom purists aren’t likely to be as taken with the new production as they were with director Harold Prince’s thrilling original, which is now Broadway’s longest-running show and is also the version playing in London. More casual Phantom fans or anyone new to the musical will probably enjoy director Laurence Connor’s take on the piece, though the tone of the touring production is much more broad and melodramatic. There’s a fine line between period style and cheesiness, and every so often Connor’s cast steps into the fromage.
That said, Paul Brown has come up with a set design that is lavish for the opera performance sequences, gritty for the backstage world that is the Phantom’s domain. The carved, erotic golden proscenium frame of the original has vanished, which is both a scenic and thematic loss. And the famous chandelier, which does come hurtling down toward the audience, is different.
Boxes and giant drums that open and close are a motif (they hint at the Phantom’s background as a magician, inventor and creator of puzzles). Stairs that poke out of the drum then disappear, allowing the Phantom to descend to his watery lair below the Paris Opera House, are clever, but they suggest 21st century theater technology rather than the work of a physically and emotionally damaged 19th century musical genius.
Lighting designer Paule Constable and projection designer Nina Dunn contribute effects that enhance story and mood, including shadows that play out the Phantom’s history as the stern ballet mistress Madame Giry (Anne Kanengeiser) relates his story to Christine’s handsome, aristocratic suitor Raoul.
The costumes, designed by the late Maria Björnson for the original production, are sumptuous, romantic and elegant. Lucky Jacquelynne Fontaine as the opera’s diva Carlotta gets to wear many of Björnson’s most striking designs.
The outgoing stars are excellent singers with the training and talent to mine the emotions in Lloyd Webber’s soaring music — Grodin especially on Music of the Night and All I Ask of You, Udine on Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again and her duet with the dashing Jacoby on All I Ask of You. In addition to Fontaine and Frank Viveros as the tenor Piangi, both of whom convey their characters’ operatic style and personalities, the production features the fine and funny Brad Oscar and Edward Staudenmayer as the opera managers.
That The Phantom of the Opera is playing the Broward Center for the fifth time is a good thing: Over time, many generations should have the chance to see a musical theater classic presented with all the bells and whistles. The new Phantom, though, also features both literal and figurative smoke and mirrors. The show is opulent, lovely to listen to, but not an improvement on the inventive original.
If you go
What: ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe.
Where: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 30.
Information: 800-745-3000 or www.browardcenter.org.