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Saturday, January 30, 2016

'The Phantom of the Opera' Delights at the Hippodrome

On the heels of the largest snowstorm in Baltimore history, the most financially successful musical in history (approaching gross income of $1 billion on Broadway alone) has come to Charm City to warm the souls of theatre patrons with a brilliant, dynamic, tech-laden production of Phantom of the Opera.  The modified and re-sized revival from previous national tours, Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece at the Hippodrome Theatre remains largely faithful to the record-breaking original that had just celebrated its 28th anniversary on Broadway and still counting. #hocoarts
Katie Travis as Christine and Chris Mann as The Phantom 
Photo: Matthew Murphy
The Phantom of the Opera, which had opened on London’s West End 30 years ago, featuring the incomparable award-winning Michael Crawford in the title role, was scored by Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Charles Hart and additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe.

Laurence Connor deftly directs this touring production that includes 52 cast members and orchestra.  Pyrotechnical effects abound, amplifying the drama that unfolds. 
Paul Brown’s exquisite set design that includes the signature rising and crashing crystal chandelier allows for smooth transitions employing a turntable on the stage as well as dropdown scenery for a wide range of settings.  Among them are: the opera house stage, the manager’s office, the underground labyrinth, the Phantom’s lair, the grand ballroom and a graveyard.  

Paule Constable’s effective lighting creates the right atmospheric moods and furthers the dramatic sequences as does Mick Potter’s sound design, which is especially effective during off-stage dialogue from The Phantom.  
Costume Designer Maria Björnson brings 19th century French attire to the company with a wide range of dazzling costumes.

The love story-thriller is best known for its memorable songs, such as the rousing title number “The Phantom of the Opera,” the gorgeous and a personal favorite “The Music of the Night,” the tender ballad “All I Ask of You,” and the romantic “Wishing You Were Somehow Here.”
Under the musical supervision of John Rigby, Dale Rieling directed Lloyd Webber’s splendid melodic score with excellent balance and proper restraint so that the vocals can rise above the background.

Based on the classic novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, Phantom’s familiar story that binds the glorious music together centers on a disfigured musical genius (The Phantom of the Opera played by Chris Mann) who lurks in the tunnels below the Paris Opera House in the late 19th century.  He is completely obsessed with a young innocent soprano Christine Daaé (Katie Travis) whom he had taught.  
Through the use of threats, terror and even murder, he insists that the ingénue receive lead roles in current and future opera offerings.  All the while, a former childhood friend of Christine, Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny (Storm Lineberger), falls in love with Christine as she does with him.  However, Christine is torn between her love for Raoul and her gratitude towards the Phantom for his teaching her to sing so beautifully.  This leads to the famously heart-pounding conclusion.

As The Phantom, Chris Mann, a finalist in TV’s The Voice in 2012, is up to the task.  His acting and movements on stage are solid, and Mr. Mann’s performances of such numbers as “Music of the Night” and the reprise of “All I Ask of You” are delivered with flair and passion while showcasing his strong tenor voice.
Katie Davis as Christine also acts proficiently, and her sweet soprano vocals shine throughout.  “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” and her performances in “The Music of the Night” are notable.  In the latter, Ms. Davis ably hits the highest register.

As Raoul, Storm Lineberger adeptly demonstrates his desire for Christine with his acting prowess and through song. In duets with Ms. Davis, “Why Have You Brought Me Here?/Raoul, I’ve Been There” and “All I Ask of You,” Mr. Lineberger performs well.
Jacquelynne Fontaine, as the diva Carlotta whom Christine replaced in the opera, David Benoit as Monsieur Firmin, Edward Staudenmayer as Monsieur Andre, managers of the Paris Opera House, and Morgan Cowling as Christine’s friend Meg also turn in good performances.

The entire company is excellent and energetic.  Under the choreography of Scott Ambler, the ensemble’s performance of “Masquerade/Why So Silent” is a standout.
Phantom’s visit to Baltimore is a welcome one in which great music, staging and performances do justice to the classic original that will play on with no end in sight.  The production at the Hippodrome is highly recommended for all audiences.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.
Phantom of the Opera runs through February 7 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or click here ticketmaster.com or click here for Hippodrome information. 

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