“Lush, lovely and over the top…”

Hollywood Reporter review of 2003 US tour

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart (with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe) and a book by Stilgoe and Webber (based on the novel "La Fonteme de L’Opera" by Gaston Leroux), "The Phantom of the Opera" is every bit as lush, lovely, opulent and over the top as it was when if first opened at the Ahmanson in 1989 – in some respects, more so.

As you enter the theatre, you realize that the stage of the Ahmanson has been transformed into a grand old Parisian opera house in 1911 – well, at least a pseudo-grand opera house with yards of scarlet curtains, a gilded proscenium, lots of draperies, a bevy of golden angels, scores of twinkling candles and one precariously swinging crystal chandelier.

Credit Maria Bjornson for the eye-popping production design (costumes, sets and stage magic), Andrew Bridge for the effective lighting and Martin Levan for the sound – all under the careful, astute direction of Harold Prince, with musical staging and choreography by Gillian Lynne.

As you probably know, "Phantom" tells the story of Christine Daae (the lovely, lyrical Lisa Vroman), a young and inexperienced member of the opera company, and her "capture" by the mad, lonely, disfigured Phantom (the wonderful Brad Little), who haunts the Paris opera house.

The Phantom falls in love with Christine and engineers her debut as the company’s prima donna and then spirits her away to his lair across a mysterious lake into a secret grotto. But she loves the opera’s wealthy patron, Raoul (the impressive Tim Martin Gleason).

The battle between the Phantom and Raoul brings the story to its climax, but not before we are treated to Webber’s lush music, including the popular songs "The Music of the Night", "All I Ask of You" and "Think of Me".

Within these familiar romance trappings, Webber and Stilgoe manage to send up operatic conventions of the 18th and 19th centuries.

In the sublimely silly Meyerbeer parody "Hannibal", Webber captures every cliché of 19th century opera; the Carthaginian queen in the antique bustle (Kim Stengel is first-rate as diva queen Carlotta Gludicelli), the fatuous tenor-without a clue Ubaldo Piangi (a fine Jimmy Smagula), a ballet of dancing slave girls and even a mechanical elephant.

Offering strong support are David Cryer and D C Anderson as the opera’s impresarios Firmin and Andre, respectively; Patti Davidson-Gorbea as the mysterious Madame Giry, the ballet master; and Kate Wray as her ballerina daughter Meg.

Ed Kaufman, Tuesday 14th October 2003

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