Atlanta Art Reviews by Susan K Asher
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‘Phantom of the Opera’
at the Fox Theatre

2010 July 8

If “Phantom of the Opera” is not the greatest musical ever, there must be some other reason it is the longest running Broadway show in history.

Now at the Fox Theatre, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical is an eerie love story based on the 1911 novel by Gaston Leroux about a chorus girl, Christine Daaé (Trista Moldovan), and a haunting ghost, the Phantom (Tim Martin Gleason).

The Phantom has been haunting the opera house for years. When new managers take over, he demands that they replace the star of the opera with Christine.

A former musical genius with a disfigured face, the Phantom lures Christine to him and takes her on a gondola ride on a lake to his lair. When he returns her to the opera house to perform, she vacillates between her love for him and her new love interest and childhood friend, Raoul (Sean MacLaughlin).

The play can be difficult to follow at times. Words are not always discernible. But it’s well worth the struggle to try to pay attention to the lines and what is going on above the set. Sometimes, the Phantom’s voice seems to come from somewhere far off, and since there is no spotlight pointing him out, you need to look closely to find him on the roof of the opera house.

Although the lyrics are sometimes incomprehensible, especially when two or more people are singing different words, the music is beautiful. Webber weaves pumping percussions, rock and opera to create unforgettable tunes, such as the lullaby “Think of Me,” and Billboard chart-toppers “Phantom of the Opera” and “All I Ask of You.” The original London cast recording is the highest selling cast album in history.

The design is by the show’s original designer, Marie Björnson, who won “Phantom” two Tony Awards: one for Best Scenic Design and one for Best Costume Design. Backdrops portray exotic locations like India, a life-size elephant appears on stage, and a jet-size lighted chandelier floats to the rafters of the opera house and later plummets to the floor. Colorful gowns with swaths of blue, green, red and gold brocade drape opera characters and recall the dress of earlier centuries in France and Spain.

On the cast album and in other productions Christine is the standout, but in this production it is Gleason, who performs in a tux with black coattails and a white mask that covers half of his face. While other characters are sometimes difficult to understand, his annunciation is perfect and his singing voice is outstanding. He moves like a dancer displaying his love for Christine, and he is a charming suitor who tugs at the heartstrings. But when she snatches the mask off him, he instantaneously metamorphosis into a creature that resembles Dracula.

“Phantom of the Opera, opened in London in 1986.  After it opened on Broadway in 1988, it won seven Tony Awards, including one for Best Musical. The show is still running in both locations.  The show is still running in both locations.

The touring company production is directed by the show’s original Broadway director, Harold Prince, who himself has won 21 Tony Awards. “Phantom of the Opera” is completing its sixth and final Southeastern trip for Webber’s touring company, The Really Useful Company, according to the playbill.

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics by Charles Hart; additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe.

“Phantom of the Opera” runs through July 18 at the Fox Theatre.

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