Don't ghost me, bro.
It’s been nearly 30 years since The Phantom of the Opera first captured the hearts of theatre-goers with its classic girl-meets-ghoul story. Now, Cameron Mackintosh’s new production has brought the O.G. (that’s Opera Ghost in this case) back to Toronto. Playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre until January 23, this revival has some big shoes to fill. On one hand, the producers are almost spoon-fed a successful run by taking on a near-perfect Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. On the other, the slightest of missteps will be magnified in the eyes of fans and critics alike.
Luckily, there’s not a lot about this production that isn’t stunning. The intricate set—which involves several large moving parts—makes for seamless transitions between countless settings. In addition to being visually resplendent, the pieces are mechanically advanced, often harbouring actors like music-box figurines. Even static backdrops are brought to life with cloud projections, sunrises, snow, and some clever shadow play.
Of course, one cannot discuss The Phantom of the Opera without mentioning the music. Goosebumps raised by the first powerful organ chords do not disappear until long after the very last note fades away. Unlike many musicals, the Phantom doesn’t employ the awkward, sing-song storytelling method. Each song advances the plot while still being a memorable and engaging piece on its own.
To be expected, each actor was carefully cast with particular traits in mind. Even the supporting characters demonstrate enviable talent—the ensemble dances en pointe, and sings opera at the same time! Genuinely funny moments come courtesy of the floundering new theatre owners, who struggle to save face after ignoring the demands of the Opera Ghost. Katie Travis shows off her impressive pipes in the role of Christine Daaé, but even though she can hit and sustain the highest of notes, her character lacks emotional depth. Similarly, the Phantom (played by pop singer Chris Mann) is quite young, and notably handsome; this is a departure from the reptilian cellar dweller we’ve come to expect. While it’s interesting to see this more human and vulnerable portrayal, it also undermines his authority and leaves him less than threatening. Unsurprisingly, Mann’s best moments are when he is at his most incensed.
The only real evidence of opening-week growing pains were in the lighting cues and audio mixes that at times needed a bit of fine-tuning. While fans of previous productions may have their prejudices, there is still enough wonder packed into this performance to win over tough crowds, and enthrall new ones.