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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Fast-Paced ‘Phantom of the Opera’

Sterling production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical at the Marcus Center

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Those familiar with a more sentimentalized approach to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much-loved The Phantom of the Opera may find themselves pleasantly surprised by Cameron Mackintosh’s lavishly mounted, spectacularly detailed production at the Marcus Center. A subtle reorchestration and a huge, stunningly choreographed cast (with greater attention to the supporting players) more convincingly defines the operatic background framing the main action.

For once we have the feeling of a genuine opera house with managerial bickering amusingly portrayed by Brad Oscar and Edward Staudenmayer. Their sequences add more substantial grounding to the central story. A fast-paced, streamlined approach adds refreshing perspective to the defining melodramatic emotions. Yet, the overarching emotional splendor of the score so often derided by serious-minded reviewers—and so beloved by audiences for more than 25 years—remains undiminished and gains new intensity from the greater dramatic focus.

What results is a Phantom that approaches the composer’s original intention—a musical drama rather than a dramatic musical. Also, this Phantom is more aggressive in dealing with Christine, even manhandling her when angered. He almost takes on Raoul physically in the “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” trio. Christine has moments of spitfire retaliation herself, yet the famous music is all there—“All I Ask of You” and the wondrously moving “Point of No Return,” which introduces the final tragic conclusion. What remains—and what has won over audiences so completely—is the searing portrait of a deformed creature that wants only to be loved.

While quite irresistible, this presentation was hampered by ear-blasting amplification that often obscured key passages making it hard to evaluate the principals. Cooper Grodin makes an effective, athletic, well-sung Phantom. Julia Udine is an attractive, extroverted but somewhat strident Christine, with Ben Jacoby as a good-looking but restrained Raul. The other principals sound fine, especially Jacquelynne Fontaine as Carlotta. Perhaps the key to The Phantom of the Opera’s enduring popularity lies in its poignant reflection of the melodramatic romanticism of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The Phantom of the Opera continues at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts (929 N. Water St.) through Aug. 3. For tickets, call 414-273-7206 or visit marcuscenter.org.