|Derrick Davis as the Phantom and Emma Grimsley as Christine|
Photo: Matthew Murphy
As Halloween season approaches, it
is fitting that Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre presents the touring production
of the Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic The
Phantom of the Opera.
The legendary first notes heard from the Overture
signal the spooky drama that is about to unfold. Replete with its masked
ghoulish villain, a masquerade ball, exquisite imaginative costumes, horror,
terror and fog, the atmosphere is just right for the Halloween mood. There are
many tricks devised by the technical
crew, and as a whole, the splendidly dramatic musical is a treat. #hocoarts
Cameron Mackintosh’s production
of Phantom remains largely faithful
to the record-breaking original that has celebrated three decades on Broadway
and still counting. Under the meticulous direction by Laurence Connor, this
iteration of the musical is substantially different from its last appearance in
Baltimore three years ago. It is more powerful with its larger and more ornate
sets, increased special effects and an abundance of pyrotechnics throughout.
The Phantom of the Opera, which had opened on London’s West End 33 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. It captured seven Tony Awards in 1988 including Best Musical and
is among the highest grossing musicals of all time.
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.” It’s also known for the iconic dropping of a crystal chandelier over the
audience (that doesn’t actually land, thank Goodness).
Based on the classic French
novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra by Gaston
Leroux, Phantom’s familiar story binds
the glorious music together. It centers
on a disfigured musical genius (The Phantom of the Opera played by Derrick
Davis) who lurks in the labyrinths below the Paris Opera House in the mid-19th
century. He is completely obsessed with
a young innocent soprano Christine Daaé (Emma Grimsley) whom he had
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
(Jordan Craig), 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 of the Opera for his teaching
her to sing so beautifully. This leads
to the famously heart-pounding conclusion.
Paul Brown’s exquisite set
design that includes the signature rising and crashing crystal chandelier
allows for smooth transitions employing a rotating floor-to-ceiling cylindrical
wall that opens up into various scenes as well as dropdown devices 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. For its part, the opera house set is a massive,
multi-level ornate, gilded structure that frames the stage, which includes
theater boxes. It is simply awesome.
"There are many tricks devised by the technical crew, and as a whole, the splendidly dramatic musical is a treat."
Large set pieces, such as
oversized statues, are on display. And there are numerous special effects,
especially startling pyrotechnics that display very intense shooting flames at
times, amplifying the drama that unfolds.
Fog and strobe effects are also
used to embellish the spooky atmosphere and are evident during the gondola
scene in the labyrinth and the cemetery. When do you ever see a cemetery scene that
doesn’t include fog? In fact, there was
so much fog downstage that it envelops and virtually swallows up the orchestra
leader in the pit, Jamie Johns, who carries on his extraordinary work oblivious
to this effect.
Under the musical supervision of
John Rigby, Mr. Johns directs Lloyd Webber’s superbly melodic score with
excellent balance and proper restraint so that the vocals can rise above the background.
When needed, the volume is turned up considerably for dramatic effect.
Paule Constable’s effective
lighting creates the right atmospheric moods and furthers the thrilling moments
as does Mick Potter’s sound design, which is especially effective during
off-stage commentary from The Phantom.
Costume Designer Maria Björnson
brings 19th century French attire to the company with a wide range
of dazzling costumes. The exquisite
costumes in the opera scenes and masquerade sequence are manifestations of Ms. Björnson’s
|Masquerade scene Photo: Alastair Muir|
As the title character, Derrick
Davis is more than up to the task.
Called upon to perform challenging and strenuous songs, Mr. Davis
excels. His acting abilities are clearly on display as the obsessed villain in
the plot with his powerful dialogue and solid movements on the stage. Mr. Davis’
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
Emma Grimsley as Christine also
acts proficiently, and her sweet soprano vocals shine throughout. “Think of Me,” “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” and her
performances in “The Music of the Night” are notable. In the latter, Ms. Grimsley ably hits the
highest register. The magnificent duet with Mr. Davis in the powerful “The Phantom
of the Opera” is a show-stopper.
As Raoul, handsome Jordan Craig
adeptly demonstrates his desire for Christine with his acting prowess and
through song. Though I find his voice a bit nasal in tone, he performs well in
duets with Ms. Davis, “Why Have You Brought Me Here?/Raoul, I’ve Been There”
and “All I Ask of You.”
Trista Muldovan as the diva
Carlotta Giudicelli whom Christine replaced in the opera; David Benoit as
Monsieur Firmin and Rob Lindley as Monsieur Firmin, the managers of the Paris
Opera House; and Sarahgrace Mariani as Christine’s friend Meg Giry also turn in
sturdy performances. Ms. Muldovan lovely
voice sparkles in “Think of Me” with Mr. Davis and Ms. Grimsley and “Poor Fool,
He Makes Me Laugh.”
The entire company is first-rate
and energetic. Under the choreography of Scott Ambler, the ensemble’s
magnificently costumed presentation of “Masquerade/Why So Silent” is a standout, and
their performances in the opera scenes also hit the mark.
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 and just in time to get into
the Halloween mood.
Running time. Two hours and 30
minutes with an intermission.
The Phantom of the Opera runs through October 20 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the
France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201. For tickets, visit Ticketmaster.com, BaltimoreHippodrome.com,
call 800-982-ARTS, or visit the Hippodrome Box Office located at 12 N Eutaw St,
Baltimore, MD 21201.