Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera is currently on a North American tour. The latest stop is at the celebrated John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., until August 20. Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel focuses on conflicts created by the disfigured man who lives beneath the Opéra Populaire of 19th-century Paris.
The role of Erik, the titular character, is performed by Chris Mann, who was a contestant in season two of NBC’s The Voice. Rounding out the love triangle are Julia Udine as rising opera singer Christine Daaé and Storm Lineberger as Raoul, the new patron of the opera house. On the evening that I attended, understudy Kaitlyn Davis appeared as Christine.
Both Mann and Davis were stronger in their acting and singing compared to Lineberger. The iconic scenes of the descent to Erik’s lair with the titular duet and the subsequent “Music of the Night” were among the best numbers of the evening. Lineberger could often hit his notes, but there was nothing particularly memorable in his scenes. On the other hand, Mann’s Phantom is dark and (as suggested in one scene) rather lustful compared to the (arguably) more romantic figure in the film adaptation with Gerald Butler. It makes sense for Lineberger to use a “playing it safe” approach in his portrayal of Raoul, but that can also leave the viewer wanting more.
Standout performances also include Jacquelynne Fontaine as Carlotta, Phumzile Sojola as Ubaldo Piangi, and Morgan Cowling as Christine’s friend Meg. Both Fontaine and Sojola possessed an ease and comedic timing that carried their scenes as veteran opera singers admired by house managers Firmin (David Benoit) and André (Price Waldman). Cowling’s beautiful voice mixed wonderfully with Davis’s on their duet, as it convincingly held a sense of concern and sympathy for the ingenue.
The new production as overseen by Cameron Mackintosh and Matthew Bourne has been advertised as “bigger and better than before.” In some ways, Paul Brown’s set design is successful in utilizing newer techniques. I was particularly impressed by the revolving cylindrical parts of the set, which allowed for quick scene changes. The speed lends itself well to evoking the hectic atmosphere of rehearsing countless hours and then shifting to a big opening night of a play, opera, or concert. That duality is suited nicely to Phantom because the audience is invited to participate as a fictional audience and be immersed in the world of the Opéra Populaire.
However, some of the pacing should have been more carefully controlled. The journey down to Erik’s lair feels slightly rushed, where the sequence should be something for audiences to truly marvel at. Nonetheless, the moving wooden planks in the staircase and the fog were still enough to leave me mesmerized.
The chandelier is another part of the set that leaves me with mixed thoughts. It was suspended above the orchestra seats in the Kennedy Center opera house. I will say that the range of movement is rather limited compared to what it does in the Broadway run. But the actual movements of the chandelier don’t fit the woes expressed by Firmin and André about the damages incurred. Some other special effects in the massive light fixture help in filling that void, but they may not please everyone.
Overall, I enjoyed Phantom at the Kennedy Center. I’ve wanted to see it live for years. You’ll likely find yourself enraptured from the first chords of the famous overture, and hoping that all the music of that night won’t end so soon.
After August 20, The Phantom of the Opera leaves D.C. and will continue touring across North America through early July 2017. For schedule details, please visit the National Tour website.