Massive ‘Phantom…’ will delight despite some flaws

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

When someone talks about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera,” there are several dimensions of the show (which is now playing at The Palace Theater in Waterbury) that come to mind first.

Initially, of course, we think of the music of the show, including memorable tunes such as….”All I Ask of You,” “Angel of Music,” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Secondly, we think of the elaborate costumes designed by Maria Bjornson befitting a show set in an opera house.

Thirdly, especially, we think of the massive set, including the much fabled “chandelier.” Again, its massiveness is befitting for a show set in a French opera house.

However, somewhere down the totem pole, audiences ponder the acting of the performers who maneuver their way in their elaborate costumes through the massive sets and sing these massive songs by Webber.

And for this road tour, the acting and performances is where, we think, producers gave short shrift in favor of the spectacle that is “Phantom’s” calling card.

It’s not that the performers aren’t good. It’s just sometimes, that because “Phantom” is as much about mechanics as it is about the dramatic arts, the players appear to mere cogs in the wheel before the next massive set list is wheeled out or the next string of pyrotechnics blind the audience.

There is clearly a lot of money spent on this road tour version of “Phantom…” that the director – Laurence Connor– appears to have been afraid to let the performers outshine their trappings.

There were times, where some of the more poignant moments in the story were lost because the direction muddled through the pacing to get the audience to the next bit of theatrical trickery.

And there were some times, where choreography became an after thought because the director may have been anxious to shift the attention to some more stage magic that would make the audience gasp.

These shortcomings in direction are a bit surprising because of Connor’s pedigree. He is regular go-to for Webber on many shows through the years. He also has directed a revamped “Miss Saigon” and “Les Miserables.”

So may be some of my criticisms may just be the result of actors having an “off night.”

Speaking of the performers, however, Derrick Davis (the Phantom) had a wonderful voice. He was quite watchable when he was the center of attention. It also was clear, he went back to the silent movie of the tale starring Lon Chaney. His movements and mannerisms echoed the melodramatic air of the silent era of cinema. There was a definite manic energy emanating from Davis that befitted a slightly deranged “phantom.”

Kaitlyn Davis, as the love interest and ingénue Christine Daae, had a lovely voice for the role. She effortlessly handled the operatic moments as the up and coming opera soprano championed by the Phantom as well as the pop moments that are Webber’s bread and butter.

However, Davis did have some shortcomings—none her fault. She may have been a bit too young – or appeared too young– for the role.

Jordan Craig as Raoul was fine as the knight in shining armor of Christine. He just had the unenviable task his role serving mainly as a foil to the Phantom.

As noted previously, the mechanical dimensions of the production is probably the biggest draw for casual theater audiences.

The road tour does not disappoint.

The sets on stage at The Palace Theater are gargantuan. The Opera House of the tale easily melds with the Palace’s own décor. The stairway to the Phantom’s underground lake is fascinating and magical. And the Phantom’s lair perfectly sets the mysterious tone for those scenes.

Additionally, the lighting, pyrotechnics, and sound design add to the immersive quality of the show.

It’s easy to get lost in the trappings of “Phantom of Opera.”

As for the music, well, the orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber are magnificently translated for The Palace Theater by music director Jamie Johns and his orchestra, which incorporates a number of local musicians into the proceedings.

In many ways, the road tour of “The Phantom of the Opera” in Waterbury is worthy of a Broadway engagement. It has its flaws.

But for audiences who want to feed their hunger for musical theater, but aren’t interested in traveling to the Big Apple, they can’t go wrong if they check out the production at The Palace Theater.

Performances of “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Palace Theater, 100 East Main St., Waterbury run through Sunday, Nov. 26. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. and Friday, Nov. 24 at 2 p.m.

Eva Tavares and Derrick Davis in the road production of ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’- photo by Matthew Murphy

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