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New Life for 'Phantom' at Kennedy Center

The Phantom of the Opera (photo by Alastair Muir)

As a heat wave pours through the area, Washingtonians want to go out and yet stay cool. Fortunately, the Kennedy Center has welcomed a “new production” of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. The 1909 Gaston Leroux novel turned Broadway hit tells the story of a young talented soprano, Christine Daae, and a haunted opera house in Paris. As the story begins, the ownership of the opera house is being transferred to two eager businessmen. As they become familiar with the opera house and its performers a sudden “accident” takes place, but they learn that this is not a random accident but one of many incidents caused by the infamous “Phantom of the Opera,” who is the real owner. As the businessmen and the stars of the opera house try to gain control, more extreme “accidents” occur. Caught in the danger is Christine and her young suitor, Raoul, as they seek freedom from the snares of the Phantom.

This production has an appealing design (quite impressive for a touring production), music, and individual performances. One of the most notable pulls of the show is its Phantom, Chris Mann. Mann is well known for his time on the NBC hit vocal contest The Voice. To some extent, Mann’s personal style seems to clash with Webber’s composition. Mann’s decision to speak or whisper certain phrases in the middle of famous songs not only made the words hard to understand, but poked a sore thumb within the production as the rest of the characters were making more consistent, traditional choices. It is Phantom of the OPERA after all, and such choices hint that Mann may be trying to create something new and different, which should be appreciated, but he should trust his voice and its ability to deliver the emotion of the songs without filling the story with contemporary flair. At many points throughout the performance, Mann proved that his talents are more than enough to carry such a demanding lead role.

Other Reviews:

Philip Kennicott, Anne Midgette, and Nelson Pressley, A musical whose time has gone: Three Post critics take on ‘Phantom’ (Washington Post, July 22)

Cheryl Danehart, The new ‘Phantom’: Masking some of the mystique (Washington Times, July 24)
One of the best examples of unifying the integrity of the composition, while still breathing new life into the character, was Kaitlyn Davis as the young, wide-eyed Christine Daae. Davis, an understudy in the role, turned her performance into the highlight of the evening. Her control over such famous and challenging music seemed easy. Thankfully, Davis also provided a sense of tenderness and hopefulness, qualities this production was lacking at times. This shortcoming came at the hands of Mann and Christine’s young love Raoul, played by Storm Lineberger. In a play centered on passion and love, it’s unfortunate that the two suitors for Christine’s affections failed to display any believable attraction to her. Lineberger especially played a melancholy frown for the entire performance. Even when provided with tender dialogue, Lineberger somehow managed to contradict what he was saying, with how he was saying it. Due to this lack of love surrounding the three main characters, one might hope the young Christine finds a way to win without either the Phantom or Raoul.

The Phantom of the Opera runs 2.5 hours with a 15-minute intermission. This production continues at the Kennedy Center through August 20.

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