Arts

Broadway San Jose's
Fantastic 'Phantom'

New touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic musical haunts SJ
Chris Mann and Katie Travis in Broadway San Jose's 'The Phantom of the Opera.' Photo by Matthew Murphy

Cue the synths, smoke machines and the magic chandelier. Broadway San Jose opens its 2016-17 season with the newest touring production of The Phantom of the Opera. Scaled for the Center for Performing Arts, it still incorporates all the beloved features of the hugely popular Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

As this Phantom opens, the stage is covered by a giant smoky scrim, behind which an auction of old theater props is taking place. The auctioneer is selling off various items ... when he comes to Lot 666, an old, rusted chandelier. As he explains its connection to the strange events surrounding the phantom of the opera, the chandelier flickers to life, illuminated by the "new" electricity. The hulking candelabra quakes and sparks fly, as the stage below rolls back through time to the same theater two decades earlier.

Cut to the performing company as it busily rehearses for an opera based on the life of Hannibal: before the cast can finish rehearsal, a pulley system collapses onto the stage, sending the dancers, singers and crew into chaos. Carlotta, the resident soprano and prima donna, played with charm and moxie by Jacquelynne Fontaine, storms off the stage, while the theater owners rush to calm the storm. The choreographer, Madam Giry, played with perfect moody insinuation by Anne Kanengeiser, steps in and suggests Christine—the orphan child of a former chorus girl—for the lead part.

Later, Christine confides to her dancer friend that she learned to sing from an invisible spirit, the "Angel of Music." Played by Kaitlyn Davis, Christine is coy and sweet, but well-grounded. She's also soon visited by theater patron and not-so-secret admirer, Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, played by Storm Linenberger with perfect austere tension. Christine tries to explain her supernatural skills, but the Vicomte just laughs. Then we meet the titular Phantom, who appears first in Christine's mirror, before revealing himself and his spooky underground lair.

Played by Chris Mann, The Phantom is portrayed with an immaculate mixture of anger, passion, self-hatred and toxic grandiosity. Mann's vocal performance synchronizes beautifully with the character's irrational personality.

After entrancing Christine, The Phantom explains that he has chosen her to sing his music and perform in his productions. Soon the company receives letters from The Phantom, who threatens terrible tragedy if Christine is not cast as the lead in its upcoming production. They try to ignore the notes, but when the lead soprano's voice becomes toad-like, the theater director knows he has a problem. Christine escapes to the roof with Raoul, where she tells him about her trip to The Phantom's lair. This only enrages the Vicomte—and The Phantom, who overhears their conversation—even more.

What follows is a dreamlike love triangle, a cursed theater company, and the self-loathing of a tortured genius, who brings it all tumbling down, in one of the most epic and well-known theater stories of the 20th century.

Broadway San Jose pulls it all off to marvelous and daring effect. Every aspect of the show seems meticulously thought out—from beautiful, ornate costumes detailed down to the button, to the never-ending complex song and dance sequences that play without a hitch. The time and effort devoted to innovating upon an already best-selling production is visible in every scene.

Most impressive is the set, which is practically a character itself. By incorporating a turret-like mechanical system, revolving and unfolding between scenes world. The experience of watching this mechanism enhances the pace and dreamlike nature of the story, presenting starkly different worlds fluidly and continuously.

The lighting in this production is also noteworthy. Although a little dark at the beginning of the first act, the lighting is so precise and nuanced it gives life to the stage and colors the tone of even the briefest scenes.

With this high level of production it's hard to find flaws or inconsistencies. To fit the plot into a reasonable frame and time, some aspects of the story were elided and some character development was lacking, but these are negligible weaknesses in the face of such a spellbinding performance. The audience comes away with a sense of how a larger-than-life musical can be adapted into a normal-sized theater without losing any of its original excitement or vigor.

The Phantom of the Opera
Thru Oct. 2, $35-$130
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts


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