Streamlined 'Phantom of the Opera' loses none of its power

  • Article by: ROHAN PRESTON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 19, 2013 - 1:10 PM

REVIEW: Strong singing leads a "reimagined" but powerful version of the hit musical.

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The company performs "Hannibal," featuring Frank Viveros as Ubaldo Piangi, in "The Phantom of the Opera."

Photo: Matthew Murphy,

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Rest easy, “Phantom” fanatics, the modernized version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical is still a thrill.

The advance word on director Laurence Connor’s new production of “The Phantom of the Opera,” which opened Wednesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, was mixed. Preview performances in Providence, R.I., were beset with technical glitches that stopped the show. Some fans were upset with the new look of the production, calling it too scaled down (even as 21 trucks are required to transport the show).

The main technical problem on opening night occurred with two sidewalls in the maroon-colored office of the opera owners. Whenever Paul Brown’s turntable set opened, like a flower, to reveal the office, the side flaps on either side would slowly drift back in, wanting to close. There was unintended humor as actors pushed the walls out.

Otherwise, it was smooth sailing for this iconic show that boasts the same compelling score, simplified but still eye-catching design, loads of pyrotechnics and a stellar cast.

Julia Udine is glorious as Christine, the fatherless ballet dancer endowed with the gift of song by the Phantom. The crystalline beauty of her soprano shines through “Angel of Music.” Equal plaudits go to Mark Campbell, a terrific singer who invests the Mephisto-like title character with a strange, commanding power.

Connor has made this musical very operatic by casting actors with top-notch voices (or singers with great acting skills) in the show. That lists includes Jacquelynne Fontaine as diva Carlotta, and Linda Balgord as ballet mistress Madame Giry.

If a performer such as Ben Jacoby, who plays Christine’s childhood sweetheart, Raoul, seems merely good, it’s because he is in the company of such stellar singers.

Still, the question remains, is Connor’s production better than Harold Prince’s original? The simple answer is no. Prince created it from thin air. Connor had Prince’s base from which to work. But this latest production is not worse, either. It is simply different, with more up-to-date technology. The set, for example, transforms seamlessly into all the different realms and milieus that the show inhabits.

One of the coolest design elements is the staircase that seems to magically appear as the Phantom conducts Christine to his lair. The Phantom takes Christine to the back of the opera house, which is high up with nothing but air beneath them. At first, the scene looks dangerous (post “Spider-Man,” the actors are harnessed). But then a landing comes out of the wall. He steps onto it. Then three stairs come out below that. He goes down some more. And so on.

The famous chandelier also is present, and when it crashes, shards of (plastic) glass hit patrons. “Phantom” is still very enthralling.

 

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390

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