It’s a cold Friday night in Pittsburgh, temperatures in the single digit range. What better to do than go see a show? Why not right, after all the Phantom of the Opera was in town, and how could you resist that despite the frigid temperatures. I’m sure all of us have somewhat of an understanding of the tale of the Phantom of the Opera. The book has been around since the 1900s; and the musical since the 80s, but what is there about the opera that keeps people coming back? If you could be so bold and bear the cold you will have your answer.
This new production of The Phantom of the Opera, done by Cameron Mackintosh, was unlike any of its predecessors I’ve seen before here in Pittsburgh. Growing up, my mother did her best to “expose me to the arts,” and by doing so, took me to see a lot of theatre performances. Seeing shows from Broadway-like performances done by dedicated actors who love their trade. Surprisingly enough, the one we saw the most was the Phantom. Now, if you’ve seen the previous performances, and were like me in thinking that the chandelier and overall set has always lacked that sort of flair the story describes it to be. Then look no further in this one. It was as if you had an on field experience of a Zambelli fireworks show after a good Pirate game, right off the opening overture, and it only heated up from there.
To me, I thought the set really brought this show to life. I feel like the producers wanted you to hold your applause until the very end, in giving you very little time to applaud the performers after a major song. The scenes transitioned from one-into-another at a fairly fast tempo and morphed together beautifully. The art and lighting behind the stage structure was grasping, going way-beyond the norms of stage theatre, even at a professional level. It was as if the stage was on a swivel, with the characters turning from scene to scene in as smooth a form as possible, the next step up would have been a motion picture. It really set the mood for the show. The special effects this show offered were nothing but electrifying. You literally felt the heat wave of the special effects making you hold onto your seat; feeling as if you are in the front row at a Kiss concert with the amount of pyrotechnics used in this production. Turing the Opera nearly into an on-stage motion pictured rock show.
Last but not least, the performances in this show were astounding from the entire cast. David Benoit and Edward Staudenmayer, who played Monsieur Firmin and Monsieur Andre really hit the mark with the strictly business comical relief of the opera. Frank Viveros did a shocking performance of Ubaldo Piangi, who I think is one of the most forgotten characters of the play, playing this role to perfection in hitting the charisma and vocal range of the character exquisitely. Ubaldo Piangi being a male lead in the operas within the opera, but also a servant to the Prima Dona of the stage Carlotta Giudicelli, who was portrayed by Jacquelynne Fontaine. I feel as if Carlotta and Christine are of the most challenging and influential roles of theatre, in that there is not an easy note anywhere among the two characters throughout the play, and Jacquelynne did a fantastic job bringing the character to center stage. Her singing was mind-blowing, and her acting was not off the mark in any stretch. It’s hard enough to perform a song of this characters magnitude, but I believe it’s even harder to purposely botch a section of a song in il Muto flawlessly and comically. Strom Lineberger played the role of Raoul who I thought did an adequate job, but nothing over the top. His vocals were good, but I feel this character calls for a strong supporting male lead, one that I just did not connect with. Perhaps it was his acting in missing the ability to draw the crowd to his cause in needing to save his beloved from the possessed love-lusted Phantom.
Chris Mann portrayed the Phantom, which as you could probably guess was the male lead of the play. This character demands a solid performance, because without it, there is no show. Chris came to stardom on the TV show the voice being Christina Agulara’s finalist from Season Two, and somewhere in between went from the The Voice to Broadway and we are doubtlessly better for it. Chris hit the mark providing the strong raspy, yet extremely vocal range of the Phantom. Chris did a tremendous performance of Music of the Night, which I believe is the hardest male song in the show. Giving the Phantom both power along with a pleasant melody, allowing the audience to sympathize to the softer side of the monstrous Phantom. Katie Travis plays Christine Daae, and judging by this performance should win every Gene Kelly award for female performances. This girl had some pipes! You could despise the show, dislike the stage designs, hated the seat you sat in, but there is no way you could have detested to Katie’s vocal performance! It was in a world of itself, and Christine’s character is no easy character to portray by any stretch so this role has to be spot on. Katie hit every note beautifully, and held the longest notes with the same intensity of the first breath of every song. I feel Katie really brought Christine forward, stealing the show from the Phantom, and the other cast was fueled by her performance. If you see any other show that she performs in, I guarantee you will not be disappointed. Her performance of Christine left everyone humming to the sweet tune of Think of Me, and leaving everyone sleeping with the Angel of Music!