The Tampa area is fortunate to have many venues that bring in world class performances and Broadway caliber shows. The Straz Center is just one of them. For the past twenty years or so Straz Center has been pulling in shows such as Wicked, The Book of Mormon,and Phantom of the Opera. It’s an amazing place to catch a show without traveling to New York. We get over there as often as we can to see shows we love. Our favorite is Phantom of the Opera, running now through January 4th.
This past Friday we were fortunate to have the chance to see the newly redesigned production of Phantom. Cameron Mackintosh took the original Andrew Lloyd Weber score and redesigned the set and changed up the stage direction a bit too. I was anxious to see how he choose to retell the story.
One caveat before I voice my opinion about the changes, we are hyper critical and have high standards of how we perceive Phantom ought to be executed. The story itself is difficult, one could call it an original horror story. There is a lot of tension, drama and torment within the story. For us, the best measure of a great production is one that balances the beauty of the music with the enormity of the emotion one would expect to feel. To accomplish this fete, the production ought to have a cast of seasoned musical thespians and the right level of special effects to convey the eeriness and horror of the story.
The music was amazing. It’s really hard to mess up the musical score with a full orchestra and highly talented vocalists. The Phantom was played by Chris Mann, a recent “The Voice” winner, so it’s assumed he can sing. The singing was all on par with what one would expect, but just because one can sing doesn’t mean one can act. Mann didn’t bring the Phantom to life sufficiently for my liking. He needed to dig a little deeper to properly convey the anger the Phantom ought to feel. Afterall, he lives in the shadows and was abandoned by society. One ought to have an hurtful and mad at the world countenance with experiences such as that.
This production lost me with the poor acting and a less elaborate set design. The expected angst, and torment was missing from both Christine and the Phantom. The acting fell flat as they appeared to just get through the scene quickly and onto the next musical number. Each of the scenes sans music were missing the prerequisite emotion. The Phantom’s lines delivered from behind the stage and directed at Mr Andre and Mr Firmin were merely spoken, with no menacing inflection, or clearly conveyed threats.
The largest change was the set design.Rather than take up a large stage presence the show takes place inside a cylinder that moves, and opens for each of the scenes. I found it to be a unique way to stage the show but it inhibited a lot of the usual grand production techniques present in the original stage production. The use of dry ice was minimal, the chandelier was less impressive, the candles that rise from the floor were absent.
The scenes I found to be disappointing were the trip across the lake, the mirror scene and Masquerade.
The first time the audience sees the Phantom is when he appears from behind the mirror in Christine’s darkened dressing room.The scene should be intimate and filled with emotion. Instead the scene takes place in the shared dressing room of the ballet between the Phantom and Christine. The space is large, well lit and lacks the required intimacy.
The trip across the misty lake in the original was fraught with drama and suspense with candles rising from the floor and an abundance of dry ice wafting across the stage creating the illusion of a foggy night. In the redesign, it’s scaled back to where the illusion is lost. There are no candles, the dry ice is minimal and the fear that Christine is to feel is absent. The earlier production features cat walks that Phantom pulls her through to the waiting boat. In current tour, the catwalks are nonexistent, instead he leads her down the side of the cylinder and she willingly follows, lacking any fear of the disfigured man.
The most disappointing scene for me was Masquerade. Masquerade is a big production with elaborate costumes, and a stage filled with revelers. In this production, gone is the grand staircase, the elaborate costumes, and stage fillers with extras. The cast was in period dress as if they had just stepped in from the street and were handed a mask to wear. Rather than have the Phantom descend from the staircase dressed as red death, he appears from behind a mirror in a red cape and is less than menacing. It lacked grandeur and impending
doom one would except. A Phantom dressed in a red cape is not menacing at all, however dressed as Red Death he is much more ominous.
Yet, if I hadn’t had another production to compare this one too I would have been in awe. Having seen the show many times, the changes that Cameron Mackintosh made just didn’t agree with me. Phantom is an elaborate production that was reduced down to a smaller more cost effective production. It truly appeared to be a low budget show. I can understand the need to reduce costs, but it would have been better to not to have skimped on the effects and sought out more seasoned actors too. It wouldn’t take much to beef up the elements I wasn’t crazy about.
If you haven’t seen the show it is worth the trip into the city and the cost of a ticket. I know, I am a harsh critic, so don’t read too much into my opinion of the performance.
*note: I was gifted press tickets to attend the performance and write a review.