Apparently, the Phantom lives forever.
Thirty-two years after its premiere, one of the top-grossing musicals of all time is still packing ’em in. Sunday’s matinee at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts showed why Andrew Lloyd Webber’s megahit The Phantom of the Opera maintains its appeal, even as this "new" 25th anniversary version by original producer Cameron Mackintosh starts to collect dust.
Lavish staging and costumes, technical improvements in sound and a more competitive talent pool of singers than ever make this Phantom more memorable than the 1990s tour that came through here. At the same time, this has the feel of something at least halfway through a long shelf life, good for another decade or so but not indefinitely.
Travis Taylor filled in Sunday in the title role for Quentin Oliver Lee, who was ill. Taylor has a top-shelf tenor voice, and did a capable job. We feel the Phantom before we see him, in falling objects and a chandelier that falls dramatically over the audience at the end of the first act. His tormented backstory includes skill as a magician, which comes in handy for tossing fireballs at his rival Raoul, represented in columns of fire on the stage.
His expression comes through an enduring score, memorably sung in The Music of the Night. His love interest and sometimes hostage is Christine Daaé, and Eva Tavares combines with Taylor in quintessentially romantic duets such as Angel of Music and All I Ask of You. More than any other character, her sure-footed delivery and interpretation keeps the show on track.
The supporting cast kicks in when called upon, notably Kristie Dale Sanders as Madame Giry, the Phantom’s somber messenger. The most effective theme going is Christine’s dilemma of choosing between her art, represented through the Phantom’s musical tutelage, and a conventional love life (although Jordan Craig as Raoul carries safe-and-conventional dangerously close to bland and uninspiring).
Besides the singing, the strongest element of this production was the mood created through set, lighting and costumes. Creative forces behind it spared no effort in building a mood, from the fog-shrouded gondola ride in the Phantom’s lair to the upper deck of gilded box seats in the opera hall. Those elements and the score provide a backdrop for the scenes that drive the romantic conflicts home at the end of each act.
All of those things matter, though none perhaps quite as much as a key player you never see — the organ.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.