Putting the final touches on the chandelier before a matinee performance of "The Phantom of the Opera" at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Sharon L. Taylor.
“Things have changed, Raoul,” says Christine Daaé to her suitor, the Vicomte de Chagny, early in the first act of The Phantom of the Opera. The same can be said of the national tour currently in residence at The Hobby Center of the Performing Arts. While the story, much of the costuming and the score — aside from some orchestrations and the occasional lyric — are the same, the staging and sets are dramatically different.
Those familiar with the show will spot the differences right away, as gone are the golden angels that once framed the stage, their opulence shrouded as patrons took their seats, and the chandelier is no longer cloaked center-stage.
According to stage manager Jovon Shuck, the shimmering new chandelier and more detailed sets are straight from the UK National Tour, where this reimagined production first took flight. Elements of the set revolve and unfold; the opera managers’ office brims with framed art and period furnishings; steps appear to lead the Phantom and Christine down to the underground lake; and, perhaps most noticeably, a mirrored ballroom replaces the staircase in “Masquerade.”
When the Phantom’s past is revealed, shadows illustrate Madame Giry’s story of a freak show, cruel abuses and a violent escape. And, perhaps most curiously, this time Christine does not unmask the Phantom — a moment that harkens back to the silent film. Instead, the Phantom removes the mask himself while Christine sleeps. It’s all part of the plan to make the musical darker and grittier, until even the operas staged within the show are less farcical than in Hal Prince’s original production.
Shuck and resident director Kasey RT Graham say that the new production wasn’t influenced by the 2004 movie or by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel, Love Never Dies. Instead, the changes arise from innovations in stagecraft and technology since Phantom was first staged in London and New York. (The original production still plays in both of those venues, three decades later.)
Other changes involve the title character himself. Chris Mann, who plays the Phantom on tour, points out that his Opera Ghost is closer in age to Raoul and Christine, which “muddies the water and creates more of a rivalry.” His Phantom is arguably more dangerous than some of his predecessors’, and this Raoul (as played by Storm Linebarger) is more dimensional, less a knight in shining armor; Mann teases that the vicomte might be darker now as well. Theirs is a more balanced, even more modern love triangle than the standard interpretation.
Mann describes his voice as “more modern” than some of his predecessors, more Michael Crawford than other storied Phantoms with deeper tones. When asked what part of the show he finds the most challenging, he settles on “The Music of the Night,” which in this production is not staged as the usual double-entendre seduction. Instead, he says, it really is about the music — his music and what Christine (Katie Travis) can bring to it. This emphasis is felt again in the finale, when she wads up pages of the Phantom’s music and flings them at him. He even emotes, “Christine, I love you” to a crumpled composition rather than the ingenue herself.
There’s also a challenge to playing a role that the audience knows so well. “You have to meet expectations but have your own take, as an actor and as a person,” Mann says. “I’ve played it for a year. You morph and create your own Phantom.”
The Phantom of the Opera ends its Houston run Thursday, November 29, so secure your seats now. Tickets start at $45 and can be purchased by phone (800.982.2787), at the Hobby Center Box Office (800 Bagby) or through Ticketmaster. For more information about the tour, see PaperCity‘s previous coverage. For an exploration of all things Phantom, click here.