'Phantom' rises, better than ever, at Academy of Music

"The Phantom of the Opera" at the Academy of Music, with Julia Udine and Cooper Grodin, has been updated with multimedia elements, CGI, and a giant, rotating set.
"The Phantom of the Opera" at the Academy of Music, with Julia Udine and Cooper Grodin, has been updated with multimedia elements, CGI, and a giant, rotating set. (MATTHEW MURPHY)
Posted: March 26, 2014

Attention, Phantom of the Opera lovers: Prepare to fall in love all over again. Cameron Mackintosh has redesigned Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic musical, which for the next month is receiving its North American premiere at the Academy of Music.

Actually, remake more accurately describes what he has conceived here. Phantom, now almost 30 years old, needed to catch up with the times, particularly with advances in stagecraft.

Accordingly, the sets (now by Paul Brown) received the biggest change. A giant, rotating tower of brick and ballast rolls across the set. Serving as the back wall of the Paris Opera House, it also enables the Phantom (Cooper Grodin) to abduct Christine (Voorhees' own Julia Udine) and flee down a set of rapidly appearing and disappearing stairs, giving concrete pause to his line "and though you turn from me to glance behind."

The production has kept Maria Björnson's Tony Award-winning costumes, and they sparkle under Paule Constable's new lighting, to which designer Nina Dunn added multimedia projections and computer-generated imagery, which is particularly potent in the graveyard scene. New dance and fight choreography by Scott Ambler enlivens the staged opera performances (the Act 2 opener, "Masquerade," becomes a dizzying, dazzling spectacle), and fistfights between Raoul (Ben Jacoby) and the Phantom occur each time they meet, adding a layer of ferocity to this love story.

Rather than ruin any of my cherished Phantom memories (much to the dismay of my theater friends, I love this musical), these changes only served to intensify the plot and deepen the romantic triangle.

Placing the large cast on a narrowed stage created a greater intimacy. Christine's ultimate rejection of the Phantom burned through greater sorrow when she left - not over a fake lake of fog, but through a door. Powerful, gorgeous singing by the principals - particularly in the supporting roles of the opera managers Firmin (Craig Bennett) and Andre (Edward Staudenmayer) - continued to captivate.

A caveat: If you can only love the first Phantom you ever saw, you may feel disappointed. But for me, this remake proves that the story, the sadness, and the score are timeless, no matter what changes around them.


THEATER REVIEW

The Phantom

of the Opera Through April 12 at the Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St.

Tickets: $30.50-$160.50. 215-731-3333 or kimmelcenter.org/Broadway.

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