The dazzling musical spectacle makes its return to the Toronto stage at the Princess of Wales
For many, their first foray down the rabbit hole of musical theatre began with The Phantom of the Opera. It’s an easy choice considering it’s one of the longest running musicals of all time, having first been staged in London’s West End in 1986. Since then, the show has bewitched and dazzled many, spanning generations across the globe. Now, making its triumphant Toronto return to the Princess of Wales Theatre is Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic.
If you happen to not be in the crowd of long time Phantom fans, the musical is based on the novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux. The era is the late 19th Century and a ‘ghost’ haunts Paris’ Opéra Populaire. Actually, it is a man — disfigured and driven mad — living in the canals beneath the theatre and existing in shadows. When Christine Daaé, the orphaned daughter of a famed violinist, is brought in to join the theatre’s ballet, he falls for her and teaches her to sing as a voice through the vent in her room. When the company is bought by new two new investors, Firmin and André, the “Opera Ghost” sees it as the best opportunity to push Christine into the spotlight, which ultimately ends in tragedy.
It’s been over 20 years since I’ve seen The Phantom of the Opera on the big stage so my excitement for this performance was palpable. The biggest draw — aside from seeing my favorite songs performed live and to experience those same chills again as the overture kicks in — is to see the new staging, the new grand effects including the fall of the chandelier, the new costumes and and any new twists that may have been added to the story.
And that staging by Paul Brown, the revolving multiple level sets, the quick change scenery that happens in the blink of an eye, they are absolutely incredible! The set changes are seamless and well executed. There are quite a few sets within the show that take place within a central column-like structure, one drastically different than the other, and when the column revolves to reveal the next set it, it is flawless. When the Phantom takes Christine down to his layer in what has to be the most iconic scene, the stairs that mysteriously extend out from that central column as they descend and when the column opens to reveal the boat on the canal, it’s breathtaking.
The performances here are simply remarkable. I am blown away by Quentin Oliver Lee as the Phantom, who delivers all the bombastic, rage-fuel passion that is necessary to drive the character. He has a fantastic voice and is charismatic and mesmerizing to watch on stage. I also love Eva Tavares as Christine. She plays Christine as the shy waif of a girl at first, but it’s great to see her come into her own when she first defies Raoul and then has to face down the Phantom on her own.
My guest for the evening, Lindsay, pointed out how great Trista Moldovan is as Carlotta Giudicelli the prima donna, and she really is. The character can quite easily be a caricature, and though there is bound to be some element of that, Maldovan brings a realness and and a bit of a more grounded nature to Carlotta. Her vocal abilities are fantastic and her sassy attitude makes her delightful. Jordan Craig as Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, takes a more wild approach to his character, such that Lindsay commented on as almost being like the Phantom. It’s a refreshing approach, as I’m used to the character of Raoul being far more wooden.
Lindsay, who’s had the chance to see Phantom live more times than I, pointed out a few changes to the story in this production that I had forgotten. These are not major story twists but more slightly different approaches, namely when the Phantom reveals the wedding dress to Christine that he had planned for their future (forced) nuptials, and how Christine initially triggers the Phantom’s rage. Traditionally, it happens when Christine reaches up to take off his mask to reveal his disfigurement; here she happens to catch him unawares and hands him his mask when he believes she is still sleeping. From a motivation standpoint, this doesn’t seem to justify his bout of rage as much as in the traditional production.
This production of The Phantom of the Opera reminds me why I fell in love with the musical over 20 years ago and, indeed, why it is so timeless. This production is stunning, the performances are great and the sets will leave you in awe. See it again, see it for the first time, just see it.
- The Phantom of the Opera is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King St W) until June 30 2018.
- Performances run Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm with Wednesday matinees at 1:30 pm and weekend matinees at 2:00 pm. Additional performances on Sunday, June 10 at 8:00 pm; Thursday June 14 at 1:30 pm; and Tuesday, June 26 at 1:30 pm.
- Tickets range from $69 – $220 and can be purchased online, by phone by calling 416 872 1212, or in person at the box office.
- Run Time: 2 hours 25 minutes with intermission.
- Audience Advisory: Performance contains theatrical haze, strobe effects, live gun shots, pyrotechnics, and live flame. Viewer discretion is advised. Recommended for ages 6+.
Photo of Quentin Oliver Lee and Eva Tavares by Matthew Murphy