The dramatic story of the disfigured music master and his talented and beautiful protégé is one of the most recognized of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpieces, and many would believe that the dramatic tale could not be improved. They are wrong. Cameron Mackintosh’s 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera is truly the “glorious celebration” that he dubs it, and the Friday-night audience at the Durham Performing Arts Center appeared to agree.
Directed by Laurence Connor (who has anniversary experience with his 25th anniversary production of Les Misérables currently playing on Broadway), this new production joins seven others of the show that are currently gracing theaters around the world. The most recent opening started in Taipei, China in September 2014. The show has grossed over $5.6 billion worldwide, and more than 130 million people in 30 countries have viewed the show.
With more than 14,500 performances grossing over $1.5 billion for The Phantom of the Opera’s U.S. National Tours, the show has garnered over 70 major theater awards. No matter how many times one experiences the show, the spectacular created by lyrics and soaring music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart resonate for days later; and this new production provides an even bigger and better experience than ever before.
The story opens with an auction of items owned by the Paris Opéra House, items that evoke memories for some of the bidders, particularly Raoul (played by Ben Jacoby). A small music box, featuring a cymbal-clapping monkey, acts as the conduit for a flashback that becomes the entire stage production. But it is the newly electrified chandelier that comes alive with snaps and crackles and becomes the prologue only for the story but also for the new lighting, set design, and pyrotechnics that make this version of the play a celebration of the original.
In “Think of Me,” the new set design (by famed opera designer Paul Brown) is revealed, and we are introduced to the frenetic members of the cast of Hannibal as they go through their dress rehearsal for the show. The opera diva Carlotta Giudicelli, played with outrageous flamboyancy by Jacquelynne Fontaine, and the talented new singer, Christine Daaé (Julia Udine) square off in what becomes an epic battle of the opera divas. Fontaine is appropriately snobby and more than a little high-pitched as Carlotta, a perfect foil for Udine’s incredible on-pitch and passionate Christine.
One of the strongest pieces of music in this musical spectacular is the first meeting between The Phantom (Allan Snyder, subbing on Friday night for Cooper Grodin) and Christine as they descend into his labyrinth. The title song is sung with both conviction and soaring moments by the unlikely pair. It is at this moment that the impressive set becomes a huge cylinder with an upper balcony and a door that opens into the audience with a set of stairs sliding out from the cylinder to precariously lead down into the dark depths of The Phantom’s world. The cylinder/set turns to open up to reveal an office for other scenes, but its usage for the labyrinth is the most impressive. As Snyder sings the fan favorite “The Music of the Night,” the audience appeared caught up in the moment and enthralled by his command of the song.
But this version of Phantom belongs Julia Udine, whose soprano is both soft and powerful, mesmerizing and divine, and whose acting is inspired and passionate, tender and intriguing. Comparisons to Sarah Brightman were overheard during intermission, but Udine needs no comparison. She is uniquely gifted and stunning, as one would expect anyone who embodies the role of Christine. During the final scene with The Phantom, a scene where Christine is torn between her compassion for her mentor and her love for her childhood sweetheart, Raoul, Udine’s struggle is evident in the breaks in her voice, as well as in her physical posture.
Though The Phantom’s revealed face is truly horrifying, Christine has seen beneath his ghastly exterior to see the broken heart he has suffered with throughout his entire broken life. It truly tears her apart to have to leave him in agony.
It is because of Julia Udine’s resplendent voice, Jacqueline Fontaine’s ability to present a conceited diva, BenJacoby’s youthful portrayal of a man in love, and Allan Snyder’s pained rendition of a tortured composer that this version of The Phantom of the Opera is moving and inspiring.
The show will run through Oct. 19th, giving all who can find tickets the chance to appreciate this newly shaped and stunningly crafted version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic romance.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 11, 2014 Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/news/showcase/x532296723/REVIEW-Phantom-of-the-Opera-evokes-an-emotional-wow and Oct. 2, 2014 preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/news/localnews/x1221645262/New-sets-for-new-The-Phantom-of-the-Opera-production (Note: You must subscribe to read these articles); Oct. 5, 2014 Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/10/04/4203630/refreshed-phantom-back-at-dpac.html; Sept. 26, 2014 Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh interview with actress Linda Balgord (Madame Giry), conducted by Jeffrey Karasarides: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Interviews-Linda-Balgord-of-THE-PHANTOM-OF-THE-OPERA-National-Tour-20140926; and Jan. 9, 2014 New York City Playbill.com preview by Adam Hetrick: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/cooper-grodin-takes-over-starring-role-in-new-tour-of-the-phantom-of-the-op-211839 and Nov. 27, 2013 preview by Adam Hetrick: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/re-imagined-tour-of-phantom-of-the-opera-with-mark-campbell-and-julia-udine-210366. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Oct. 8th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2014/10/reimagined-version-of-andrew-lloyd-webbers-the-phantom-of-the-opera-will-haunt-dpac-on-oct-8-19/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14-16, 8 p.m. Oct. 17, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 18, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $57.83-$179.31 (including fees)
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), tickets@DPACnc.com, or http://www.DPACnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1116096.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.DPACnc.com/events/group_services.
SHOW: http://www.DPACnc.com/events/detail/phantom-of-the-opera and https://www.facebook.com/events/859661600717844/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHDO_3CufQ0 and http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwaUf3AyJd4FiPuKT7tb9MPhDeN8KQBrL.
THE TOUR: http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com/ustour/, https://www.facebook.com/PhantomOnTour, https://twitter.com/PhantomOnTour, and http://www.youtube.com/user/thephantomoftheopera.
THE TOUR CAST: http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com/ustour/people/cast/.
THE TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com/ustour/people/creative/.
DPAC NEWS RELEASE: http://www.DPACnc.com/news/detail/the-phantom-of-the-opera-at-DPAC-goes-on-sale-this-saturday.
SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.DPACnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.DPACnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
CONTENT ADVISORY: DPAC warns, “[This show is] Not recommended for young children.”
PARENTAL ADVISORY: DPAC advises, “All guests require a ticket, regardless of age. Children under the age of 6 will not be admitted to the theater. Children must be able to sit quietly in their own seat without disturbing other guests. As a further courtesy to our guests, DPAC recommends one parent or chaperone for every one child in attendance.”
The Phantom of the Opera (Le Fantôme de l’Opéra) (1910 French novel): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Phantom_of_the_Opera (Wikipedia).
Gaston Leroux (French author and journalist, 1868-1927): http://www.gaston-leroux.net/news.htm (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaston_Leroux (Wikipedia).
The Phantom of the Opera (1986 West End and 1988 Broadway musical): http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com/ (official website), http://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/shows/?show=The%20Phantom%20of%20the%20Opera (Andrew Lloyd Webber web page), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=7062 (Internet Broadway Database), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Phantom_of_the_Opera_%281986_musical%29 (Wikipedia).
Andrew Lloyd Webber (music and book): http://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=12073 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Lloyd_Webber (Wikipedia).
Charles Hart (lyrics): http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com/ustour/people/creative/charles-hart/ (tour bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Hart_%28lyricist%29 (Wikipedia).
Richard Stilgoe (additional lyrics and book): http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com/ustour/people/creative/richard-stilgoe (tour bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Stilgoe (Wikipedia).
Laurence Connor (2014 tour director): http://www.globalartists.co.uk/main/artists/artist.php?aid=3 (Global Artists bio) and http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com/ustour/people/creative/laurence-connor (tour bio), https://twitter.com/LaurenceConnor1 (Twitter page).
Cameron Mackintosh (London producer): http://www.cameronmackintosh.com/ (official website), http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com/ustour/people/creative/cameron-mackintosh/ (tour bio),
The Really Useful Theatre Company (London producer): http://www.reallyuseful.com/ (official website) and http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com/ustour/people/creative/rug/ (tour bio).
NETworks Presentations, LLC (Columbia, MD producer): http://www.networksontour.com/ (official website).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.com/.