Action-packed ‘Phantom’ Is Quite the Summer Fling

They’re back.

Cameron McIntosh, Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Phantom, Christine, the divas, the dire deeds, the sets, the chandelier, the fire and smoke.

That would be the “The Phantom of the Opera,” the McIntosh-Webber magnum opus, now touring the country with something of a new set, huge cast and orchestra, that impassioned music — and those great, full-throated ballads, comprising not only the title of “The Music of the Night,” but the music of the night, itself.

“Phantom of the Opera” is now thoroughly ensconced at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House through Aug. 20,  and it also appears to be part of a re-trend of a trend — McIntosh’s new production of  “Les Miserables” on Broadway, and it appears there’s a new version of Webber’s “Cats” afoot.  If that’s not enough, there’s also a perfectly fine production of Webber’s “Evita” at the Olney Theater in progress.

This version — with a full-voiced Chris Mann as the menacing-more-than-romantic Phantom — seems an ideal summer vehicle.  Some of us who have been around a while have their own memories of Phantom productions of yore and may or may not sidle up to this version. 

In its entirety, it seems to be a production for our times, where the performing arts and its leadership have increasingly struggled with the issue of bringing in new audiences — not just for operas and classical music and dance, but also plays and musicals. One of the answers seems to be: make it bigger, noisier and faster so that it seems to resemble a race car, albeit a spectacular one.

There’s no question that this production contains more bells and whistles — a foreboding set that takes us down a staircase to the dark, musty lair of the Phantom, equipped with organ and instruments and a bed, lots of magic and fire in the phantom’s bag of tricks.

The love triangle among two men vying for the affections, love and power over the high-voiced and gifted Christine seems less of a triangle and more of a  duel.  The Phantom seems more sexually attracted to Christine than in former years as well as her unique ability to sing his music.

There may be a new category of performance productions these days that resemble cinematic summer blockbusters. This production works more like a romantic action movie. It’s fast paced. It wows you — at times — and it certainly has your attention. In a way,  it’s a construction: the music, performed and sung with exactitude, if sometimes over-amplified, retains its power, but the story is dressed up for a spectacle.

                One of the original charms of this piece was to recreate the atmospherics and world of what 19th-century opera and its attendant theatrics might have been like. It’s a show that’s peopled not only by the Phantom, the ingénue and the return of the long lost suitor, but by a whole cadre of people and characters who made that world hum, dance, sing, and emote.  You have the vain-glorious diva — haughtily projected by Jacquelynne Fontaine, the vain-glorious tenor (a wonderfully frustrated Phumzile Sojola), the stage hands, the conductor, the mistress of the corps de ballet and so on. 

Christine Daae was played by Kaitlyn Davis, and she sang with a force that seemed just a little too pitch perfect and really gifted for a girl who’s a beginner. In the spirit of this production, Storm Lineberger as Raoul strutted and stormed around the stage like an action hero.

The chandelier also does its designated part. It, too, is spectacular. 

Sometimes, during all the contretemps, the shadows of the big set, the torches and fireworks and smoke, your mind can sometime imagine what “The Phantom of the Opera” might be like as a chamber piece, the glorious music fully intact, the emotions fully focused in the spotlight.

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