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updated: 1/16/2014 8:30 AM

Re-imagined 'Phantom' as engaging as ever

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  • The Phantom (Cooper Grodin) employs the music of the night to seduce young Christine (Julia Rose Udine) in "The Phantom of the Opera" running through March 2 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

      The Phantom (Cooper Grodin) employs the music of the night to seduce young Christine (Julia Rose Udine) in "The Phantom of the Opera" running through March 2 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
    courtesy of Matthew Murphy

  • Cooper Grodin's Phantom leads his protégé Christine (Julia Rose Udine) into his subterranean lair in producer Cameron Mackintosh's new North American touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera."

      Cooper Grodin's Phantom leads his protégé Christine (Julia Rose Udine) into his subterranean lair in producer Cameron Mackintosh's new North American touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera."
    courtesy of Matthew Murphy

  • Childhood sweethearts Christine (Julia Rose Udine) and Raoul (Marriott Theatre veteran Ben Jacoby) reunite in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera," a Broadway in Chicago production running through March 2 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

      Childhood sweethearts Christine (Julia Rose Udine) and Raoul (Marriott Theatre veteran Ben Jacoby) reunite in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera," a Broadway in Chicago production running through March 2 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
    courtesy of Matthew Murphy

  • Jacquelynne Fontaine dazzles as the displaced diva Carlotta in the new touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera."

      Jacquelynne Fontaine dazzles as the displaced diva Carlotta in the new touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera."
    courtesy of Matthew Murphy

  • Among the highlights in this new production of "The Phantom of the Opera" is the sumptuously sung "Masquerade," directed by Laurence Connor with music direction by Richard Carsey.

      Among the highlights in this new production of "The Phantom of the Opera" is the sumptuously sung "Masquerade," directed by Laurence Connor with music direction by Richard Carsey.
    courtesy of Matthew Murphy

  • Jacquelynne Fontaine dazzles as the displaced diva Carlotta in the new touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera."

      Jacquelynne Fontaine dazzles as the displaced diva Carlotta in the new touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera."
    courtesy of Matthew Murphy

  • Video: "Phantom" montage

 
 

Fear not "Phantom of the Opera" fans. The mist still swirls, the skiff still glides along the underground lake and the chandelier still plummets in the newly re-imagined North American touring production of the famed Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which opened Wednesday at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago.

And why not? Nothing succeeds like success. And Webber's grand, deliciously melodramatic, ever-engaging spectacle is among the most successful musicals of all time, having grossed more than $5 billion worldwide since its 1986 London premiere. It still runs there and in New York, where it opened 26 years ago this month, making it the longest running show in Broadway history.

All of which suggests that "The Phantom of the Opera" didn't require much tweaking. But that didn't stop über-impresario Cameron Mackintosh, the show's original producer whose North American tour boasts brisk direction from Laurence Connor and new sets from designer Paul Brown, whose treacherous subterranean staircase (made more eerie by Paule Constable's murky lighting) and grand, mirrored hall are particularly impressive.

Maria Björnson's original costumes -- gorgeous, jewel-toned masterpieces accented with feathers, flounces and lace -- remain. So do the lush, robust orchestrations by David Cullen and Webber, whose pop-infused score -- for all its bombast -- contains pleasing melodies in the form of the lilting "Angel of Music"; the bold, swirling "Masquerade"; and the soaring, albeit sentimental duet "All I Ask of You," which I confess tugged at the strings of my cynical heart.

Strings figure prominently in many of the songs, which rely on a predictable surge and are recycled throughout the show. As for Charles Hart's lyrics, I find them a bit saccharine for my taste. That said, the ensemble -- under music director Richard Carsey and accompanied by a fine 17-piece orchestra -- sing superbly.

Julia Rose Udine -- a sparkling soprano with impressive trills and an unstudied vulnerability -- plays Christine, the talented chorus girl transformed into a star by the mysterious Phantom, played by Cooper Grodin, who took over the role last week.

Grodin sometimes sounds as if he's reaching, as if he hasn't quite established the vocal weight the character requires. That may come over time. His acting, however, is quite good. His Phantom is no tortured artist or lovesick suitor. Grodin plays him as a man unhinged. More despotic than desperate, he is a man on the brink of a breakdown.

Completing the show's romantic triangle is Marriott Theatre veteran Ben Jacoby, very good as Raoul, Christine's ardent, impetuous lover.

While Grodin's youth works against him in terms of the Phantom-as-father-figure subtext, in general Connor's young principals bring a kind of vibrancy and vulnerability to these characters, making credible their confusion, their passion and their impulsiveness.

Also deserving mention is the exquisite singer Jacquelynne Fontaine, perfection as Carlotta, the diva Christine unintentionally dethrones. Frank Viveros, another first-rate singer, plays the droll Piangi, the tenor who incurs the Phantom's wrath, and Linda Balgord, rock solid in every way as Madame Giry, the ballet mistress with a profound understanding and compassion for the Phantom.

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