Cast - Mark Campbell (The Phantom), Julia Udine (Christine), Ben Jacoby (Raoul), Jacquelynne Fontaine (Carlotta), Frank Viveros (Piangi), Hannah Florence (Meg Giry), Linda Balgord (Madame Giry), Cooper Grodin (Buquet)
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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: an old school phantom fans perspective on the new tour
I’ve been a fan for 21 years now, seen the show 92 times and 16 different men behind the mask. Through some urging by a friend I decided to give the new tour one shot. I’m going to preface this review by saying these are really just my random thoughts and opinions and I will not be going through the show scene by scene. Lets face it, this tour has been part of the public conscious for three years now, if you don’t know what it looks like, there are ample bootlegs out there for you to view. The SF leg of the tour seems to have a massive cast rotation built into it, because as its listed in the playbill, all the understudies for The Phantom, Andre, Piangi, and Carlotta have scheduled performances at this stop. My cast was: The CastThe Phantom: Eric Ruiz (u/s) Christine: Katie TravisRaoul: Storm LinebergerCarlotta: Jacquelynne FontaineFirmin: Jay Lusteck(u/s) Andre: Edward StaudenmayerPiangi: Frank Viveros Mme. Giry: Anne KanengeiserMeg: Morgan Cowling The Good The Music: The music sounded as lush and sumptuous as ever. I had overheard front of house staff talking at intermission, over half the pit worked in the SF sitdown in the 90s They appear to be using the Vegas orchestrations for most of the show. The only thing I didn’t care for in the way of music was the rearranged exit music. It is now ordered from start to finish: Masquerade, Angel of Music, All I Ask of You, Prima Donna, and Chandelier crash. Still the music sounds excellent. Eric Ruiz as The Phantom: Not being a fan of Chris Mann’s voice, this was a surprise. Eric Ruiz has an excellent voice with a wonderful lower registered. His upper register is a tad weak. He is also a wonderful actor who is sadly limited by the confines of the new direction and blocking. I can’t help but wonder how good he would be if he were a replica production. Anne Kanengeiser: I had seen her before. She was an understudy Giry on the 3rd National Tour who covered Nancy Hess’s vacation the last time the show was in SF. Still one of best Madame Girys I’ve ever seen. Shes able to retain the air of mystery about her and acts both petrified and awed in Giry’s tale. Il Muto: A lot of the humor has been put back into Il Muto. The lines that fall flat in NY and London are played for laughs as in the old tour. Their Don Atillio is hilarous and second only to John Kuther. Joseph Buquet’s death: this was my favorite part of the whole show. The Phantom sneaks up behind him and strangles him in a scene strangley reminiscent of the 1943 Claude Rains film. In the middle of it Buquet is grotesquely hoisted up in midair. I actually felt it was more disturbing than the hanging in the Las Vegas version of the show.
Chandelier Crash: While i detest the look of the chandelier in this production(i don’t like the regency style), I did enjoy the crash. It falls with a speed somewhere between London and Vegas and sprays fake glass out all over which i thought was an interesting touch. The procissnium breaking apart and the curtain falling down seemed out of place to me. I get why they did it, but at the same time if you were to cut a chandelier down, it’s not going to cause THAT much destruction. For a production that is “realer and grittier” than the original, that is an awful lot of distruction. The Bad Jacquelynne Fontaine: Her Carlotta is played for the humor. Which normally i would like, many Carlottas have been able to massively play up the humor and pull it off. But Jacquelynne’s characterization comes off more as cartoon diva than anything else in a performances strangely reminiscent of Minnie Driver.
Both the Managers: They seemed bored as if they were sleep walking through the show. Their attempts as humor and the way they interact with each other is a Firandre shippers dream come true. Katie Travis: Her Christine seemed to lack any emotional weight. She almost seemed like she was trying to do a knock off version of Sierra Boggess. Vocally she is a tad shrill at times and rather off pitch. She too seemed like she was sleeping her way through the performance. The UGLY The Overall Production Design: I get what they were driving at, they were trying to make it look more like the Paris Opera, but the effect it has is of making it look like something your local college production hobbled together. It looks cheap and plastic. I don’t know what was up with there need to fill spaces with so much clutter. The way the drum style set is designed also limits space for scenes such as the managers scene as well as the graveyard and Don Juan.It kept making me thing Laurence Connors alter ego is really Roger Debris. I was sitting on the side aisle in the second row and over half of those scenes were cut off. If you do go sit as center as possible and no closer than the 4th row as the deck is almost twice as high as the 3rd national tours was. I will give them one small compliment in this department, the stairs as part of the descent into the lair was very well done and looked cool. The room of mirrors for Masquerade was completely uninspired and looked like something Joel Schumacher wishes he’s dreamed up. The lighting over all was very washed out and devoid of tone, much like the 04 film it was BRIGHT. Storm Linenberger: His voice was unpleasant and his acting was so bad, that his Raoul landed somewhere between TMG’s Raoul and Hadley Fraser’s. I shouldn’t get the feeling that Raoul is just using Christine to serve a means to an end and not as a lover and his sweetheart. Of course that could be due to the next point. The Direction and Blocking: A lot of the issues I had came down to direction and blocking. In the Managers scenes as well as the graveyard this was particularly evident. The blocking was almost non existent because the stage was so crowded for the managers scene. In the graveyard, the Phantom is on the same level as both Raoul and Christine. Raoul punches the Phantom in the face and the Phantom proceeds to chase him around the stage with fireballs and his Tim the enchanterer hands . The book changes here make this whole scene seem like its out of a badly written romance novel. Music of the Night is now directed as a lesson on music/S&M blindfold bondage session that lacks any creativity. Don’t even get me started on the new PONR. They took what was a beautifully subtlely sexy scene and blew it up till Christine is basically nothing more then a table dancer. My biggest issues were in the final lair. Mainly when the Phantom grabs Christine and chokes her and acts like he’s going to snap her neck. The other issue i took with that scene was the nonexistent interaction between Christine and the Phantom in returning the ring. I mean really? That just left me cold. To sum it all up: the tour has some hints of brilliance in it. But ultimately is vastly outpaced by the far superior original. Like it or not, this show is now part of the Phantom lexicon. I’m not opposed to non replica productions of Phantom, but they have to be well thought out and have some effort put into them. All i can say is thank god I have a New York trip in three weeks to blast this memory from my mind. This was just a half assed attempt to hobble together a show to line the pockets of Cameron Mackintosh. So much for him wanting whatever production of Phantom people saw to be the same quality as you get in London or New York. What upsets me the most, this is the show people across America are seeing and thinking that this is what has been running for nearly 30 years(trust me even though it says new above the title, a lot of the audience didn’t realize it.) Cameron you sold out and not for the better. “ A new phantom for the 21st century”. Then again I suppose there is some truth in that. This Phantom reflects the times we live in. Cheap and emotionally vapid, all flash and no substance.
Do some productions not do the Angel of Music trio in Wandering Child? I was watching the video of Peter Joback, Elizabeth Welch and (I think) Kyle Barisich and Raoul didn't seem to start singing until after Christine and the Phantom finished, and started singing something else entirely.
Most productions don’t do the trio, actually. It began with the Broadway production, and as many international productions copy it, the use of the ‘Wandering Child’ trio (as it’s more commonly known) was limited to mainly London. Almost all other productions do what people call the ‘Wandering Child’ duet, where only the Phantom and Christine sing and Raoul comes in later. However, the restaged UK tour and the restaged US tour did decide to use the trio, and it’s been done for limited periods in productions where it otherwise did not occur - when Steve Barton briefly covered as Raoul in Los Angeles, it was used there (but not with any other Raoul) and when Norm Lewis took over as Phantom on Broadway, it was used as well, and I think it might still be in use now.
All of the non-replica productions also use the trio: the Hungarian, Polish, Czech Republic, Estonian, Romanian, and Finnish productions.