I hate to say it, but up until yesterday I had only seen the movie version of The Phantom of the Opera and listened to the London cast recording in my car. So I jumped at the opportunity to see the show that only a few years ago was titled the longest-running show in Broadway history with 7,485 performances.
What were my expectations coming to a show that has earned $3 billion dollars in world-wide sales? One word: high. In the back of my mind, I thought that this might be one show worth saving for viewing on Broadway. Fortunately, to my delight, it seems that this 36-member touring Cameron Mackintosh/Really Useful Theater Company production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera was able to bring the quality of Broadway to the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
For a traveling production, it was amazing how they utilized the center to make it seem like the OCPAC was built specifically for their show. The famous chandelier rises and falls over the heads of the audience. The Phantom gives his commands from the catwalk and sings from atop a moving Gargoyle statue. He rows Christine on a boat to his lair that is completely lit by a sea of candles that rise out of the stage.
Though the motion picture and the soundtrack by itself are entertaining, neither can hold a candle next to this stage version. The vocals by the whole cast sent emotional vibrations through my body, especially the high notes achieved by Sara Jean Ford’s singing the end of Christine Daae’s “Think of Me.” Jason Mills has a rich voice as the Phantom, but it was his performance that pleased me, especially when he sang “Stranger Than You Dreamt It” while crawling around on his stomach in shame or his soul-wrenching decision to free Christine after she melts his heart by giving him a taste of the joys of the flesh.
The story itself has elements of a backstage musical, with the audience being invited to watch behind the scenes as the characters put on their own musicals. Some of these numbers like the dress rehearsal of “Hannibal” and “Don Juan Triumphant” offered interesting history on what musicals looked like coming out of Paris around 1881 and featured some of the most lavish costumes.
Besides the obvious special effects already mentioned like the falling chandelier, other impressive illusions included the transparent mirror, fire effects, and the amazingly quick and smooth transitions between every scene. The sets were mostly three-dimensional and special props should be given for the winding staircase during “Masquerade” and the city of Paris during “Wandering Child.”
My only complaint was that despite knowing the lyrics, the house mix sometimes had the orchestra overpowering the vocals and I sometimes had to strain to hear the words being sung. This could potentially be problematic for those not fortunate to be sitting close in the orchestra section.