The New Face of “The Phantom of the Opera”

by Autumn Rhea Carpenter on December 3, 2015 in Entertainment, Theatre, Houston,
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 3 The Company performs Masquerade photo by Alastair Muir

When the flamboyant Gaston Leroux wrote Le Fantôme de l’Opéra in 1910, he envisioned bringing to life the strange events that had occurred in the famed Paris Opera House during the 1880s. Under director Laurence Conner’s guidance, “The Phantom of the Opera’s” fifth tour to Houston’s Hobby Center offered revamped sets and effects, breathing new life into the longest running Broadway show.

Jacquelynne Fontaine as Carlotta. Photo by Matthew Murphy
Jacquelynne Fontaine as Carlotta. Photo by Matthew Murphy

The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical about a disfigured genius obsessed with a young soprano debuted on Broadway in 1988. This “Phantom” diverged from the tradition of replicating every element of the original with a more realistic atmosphere. The cast conveys the expected lyrics, music and story with a more cinematic technique. “The Phantom of the Opera” continues to wow audiences by telling the classic love story with spectacular sets and eye-catching special effects.

The idea for revamping Phantom occurred as the show celebrated its 25th anniversary. The late Maria Bjornson and the production company founder Cameron Mackintosh discussed a new set design for the show that made the set more functional and less dark. Mackintosh hired a new team with the goal of updating the production’s use of lighting, sound, pyrotechnics and set.

Katie Travis and Chris Mann. Photo by Matthew Murphy
Katie Travis and Chris Mann. Photo by Matthew Murphy

In this version, Connor wanted the audience to know the characters more deeply. In the original version, the romantic aspect of the Phantom is stressed; this production deliberately makes the Phantom dangerous. Each character has more depth and is no longer viewed as two-dimensional fools. Even the three operas within the show seem less like parodies and more like the works of a real opera production company.

Paul Brown’s smart set swivels on a cylinder that reveals various spaces. The manager’s office cleverly unfolds, as well as the subterranean lake where the Phantom and Christine descend into the his lair where a treacherous-looking staircase emerges from the wall.

The legendary chandelier no longer drops, but remains the centerpiece of the show, weighing over a ton draped with six thousand beads, globe bulbs and crystal tiers. While it appears to hang precariously, it is carefully mounted to steel beams in each theater’s ceiling. It is then rigged with pyrotechnics that shoot from the glittering central fixture on command.

With all of the modern updates, Webber’s sweeping melodies keep the productions grounded with traditional songs performed by the 34 cast members and 16 orchestra players (making it one of the largest productions now on tour) including “All I Ask of You,” “Think of Me,” Masquerade,” “Angel of Music,” and “Music of the Night.”