“Phantom of The Opera” returns to haunt Buell Theatre audiences

Phantom LogoDenver welcomes an opulent “Phantom” for 25th Anniversary.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 28, 2016

Seven years have passed since the last “Phantom” haunted the stages of Denver’s Buell Theatre! And 25 years have passed since Denver audiences first saw the amazing show! The mind-controlling Phantom is back in a glorious production, now through September 11.

This is the Cameron Mackintosh new production of Andre Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera.” The music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Charles Hart are as glorious as ever, the voices are excellent. Some of the staging has been modified, as have some of the sets, but the entire effect remains a wonder to see and to hear. This version includes most of Maria Bjornson’s costume designs, including a few pieces from the original production. And yes, the Phantom does cut the rope to have the incredible chandelier fall toward the audience at the end of Act I.

"Staff adjusts the chandelier prior to showtime."  Photo by Tom Jones.
“Staff adjusts the chandelier prior to showtime.” Photo by Tom Jones.

Based on the novel “Le Fantome de L’Opera” by Gaston Leroux, published in 1910, the story became the world-famous “Phantom of the Opera” musical in 1986, and has become the most famous musical in the world.

The show begins in a Paris auction where relics of the fictional Opera Populaire are being sold, including a monkey enclosed in a little music box which opens to a haunting melody of the past. Seeing the box brings back memories to an ageing Raoul whose memory returns to the theatre’s glory days of 1891. New owners are buying the theatre, even though it appears to be haunted by a menacing Phantom who demands payment with the threat of doing harm to the theatre and employees and patrons. The Phantom is evidently a musical genius, disfigured as a child and cast out of society. He has hidden himself in the sewers under the opera house where he toys with his music, and has cast a spell on the beautiful ballerina, Christine Daee. He has been mysteriously training her to become an opera star on her own.

Denver Center_The Phantom of the Opera_"The Journey"_(From L)Chris Mann as The Phantom and Katie Travis as Christine Daaé_Photo by Matthew Murphy
Denver Center_The Phantom of the Opera_”The Journey”_(From L)Chris Mann as The Phantom and Katie Travis as Christine Daaé_Photo by Matthew Murphy

Katlyn Davis is wonderful as Christine, under the power of the Phantom who wants to marry her. Chris Mann is very good as the tormented Phantom. The emotional pull of Christine to the Phantom is palatable, especially in “The Point of No Return” late in the show.

The opera’s current star is Carolotta, played by Jacquelynne Fontaine. She is very good as the haughty diva who is humiliated by the mysterious phantom, resulting in her losing her voice. Her role as the opera’s star is taken by the newcomer Christine. A longtime friend from Christine’s youth, Raoul, attends a performance and is smitten by the beauty and charms of the now-adult Christine. Storm Lineberger is an excellent Raoul. His duet with Christine, “All I Ask of You” is one of the show’s highlights.

Christine’s situation becomes more difficult, with the threats and demands of the Phantom on one side, problems with Carlotta on another, and the presence of the wonderful Raoul tearing her in yet other directions. Not knowing where to turn, she goes to the grave of her father and pleads for help with the incredible, “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.”

Denver Center_The Phantom of the Opera_The Company performs "Masquerade." Original Tour Cast_Photo by Alastair Muir
Denver Center_The Phantom of the Opera_The Company performs “Masquerade.” Original Tour Cast_Photo by Alastair Muir

This travelling company of “The Phantom of the Opera” is like a miniature industry moving from one location to the next, taking everything it owns to yet another destination. There are more than 50 persons in the cast, plus a production team to house and feed, enormous sets, a gigantic chandelier, and full-house audiences demanding to be enchanted every night. Somehow it all works!

In the autumn of 1986 I was in London and learned of a new show heralded as being the talk of the town. I went to the box office the Majestic Theatre to see about buying a ticket for that night’s show. The staff was cordial, but advised me that the show was already sold out for months in advance. Staff told me that I could stand in the “Return Ticket Line” in the event that a ticket might be returned. I stood in a misty rain for about three hours. About ten minutes prior to showtime I was awarded a seat. The two persons in the line in front of me ended up with tickets on the sixth row of the orchestra. My ticket was in the top balcony. I stumbled into the theatre, took off my wet raincoat and was entranced for nearly three hours as Webber’s “Music of the Night” got under my skin – not to be released. The Phantom had trapped me. When the show transferred to New York, my wife and I saw it from very good seats. I have seen show several times over the years in various cities, and have been entranced each time.

Several years have passed since my last view. Notes from this year’s production report that some of the scenes have been re-staged. Some of the changes I could find. Many I could not. The beginning of Act II was on a staircase in the original show, when the cast sang “Masquerade.” After seeing the show a few times, I realized that the Phantom was actually on the stairs, and that some of the other “characters” were just well-dressed mannequins, added to the set to make the cast look larger. This time, the staircase has been replaced with a delightful ballroom scene. The masks are all there, the rooms “ceiling” is a terrific set of mirrors. I did not spot the Phantom at first glance, and everyone there was “alive,” more than 50 persons in the touring cast.”

Based on the affection of this month’s Denver audience, the Phantom won’t stay away for seven more years. He can come around to haunt us anytime. This is an exciting spectacle.

“The Phantom of the Opera”
Where: The Buell Theatre of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts
When: Through September 11, 2016
Tickets: 303/893-4100
For more information: denvercenter.org