Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in Milwaukee opened its dazzling
production last weekend to sellout crowds of appreciative patrons. Be prepared
for stellar voices, a plush but foreboding set design (Paul Brown), gorgeous
costumes (Maria Bjornson) and chilling but spectacular visual and sound effects
(Paule Constable and Mick Potter).
Mackintosh is responsible for this new touring production and Laurence Connor
for the direction. Our very own Richard Carsey and Jamie Johns added their
considerable experience and expertise to the splendid orchestration of Andrew
Lloyd Webber’s soaring score.
story, based on a novel by Gaston Leroux, echoes shades of “Beauty and the
Beast,” the “Elephant Man” and the “Hunchback of Notre Dame”; sad
tales of persons whose external appearance is tortuous and proves a deterrent to
their dreams of love and acceptance. The Phantom is also a talented
composer-singer who is jealous of those who have not been excluded.
tension of fear and angst is provided by the ominous presence of The Phantom
living in the bowels of the Paris opera house. He has fallen in love with
Christine, a young budding star, and does everything in his power to bring her
fame, hoping that she will eventually fall in love with him to reward him for
his efforts in her regard. The catch is that she is already in love with Raoul,
her leading man, and though she has some sympathy and compassion for The
Phantom, she does not want to be held as his captive.
triangular love story and the persuasive horror hold our interest, but the
exquisite music provides the surpassing pleasure. Carlotta, beautifully played
by Jacquelynne Fontaine, is the star that The Phantom frightened right off the
stage so Christine could be the lead. She and Christine (Julia Udine) and Raoul
(Ben Jacoby) open the show with an impressive rendition of “Think of Me.”
After that, she is relegated to an also-ran position.
numbers of shattering beauty include “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The
Music of the Night,” sung by The Phantom. Cooper Grodin is competent and
frightening in his role, but his rendition lacks humanity.
I Ask of You” and “Wishing You Were Here Again” were executed with an
aching passion and were more moving. Both Udine and Jacoby have more warmth in
their voices. Grodin and Fontaine are more typically operatic, and I found
myself focusing more on vocal technique than the message of the lyrics. All four
are quite amazing for different reasons, however.
directed by Scott Ambler was impressive. Other roles nicely handled include
those played by Brad Oscar, Edward Staudenmayer and Linda Balgord. Hannah
Florence added a nice soft touch as Christine’s sympathetic friend Meg.
ensemble numbers knocked down the house (and the chandelier). Overall, a
memorable night at the opera house. A side note: Christine’s first descent
into the murkiness of Phantom’s habitat was so haunting that it still lurks in
Phantom of the Opera” runs through Sunday at the Marcus Center for the
Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. For tickets, call 414-273-7206 or