Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 27, 2009

Phantom of the Opera

The Bushnell, Hartford
through May 10, 2009
April 24, 2009
by Donna Bailey-Thompson

There are big shows and then there is "Phantom of the Opera," an extravaganza. Before the first note is played, billowing yards (tons!) of fabric enhance the proscenium pulling the audience into its dark interior that reeks with mystery. At center stage is a large lump covered with an aging canvas on which is stenciled, "CHANDELIER." Before the performance has yet to begin, seeds of apprehension are planted.

The simple storyline belies the spectacular tension of this world-wide favorite that opened in London in 1986 and is Broadway's longest-running show: a deranged musical genius with horrendous facial scars who lives in the depths beneath the Paris opera house, falls in love with a young soprano. She is seduced by his admiration of her voice but alarmed by his possessiveness. The opera house employees and performers are kept off balance by the Phantom's malicious mischief which becomes progressively violent.

Throughout, under the direction of conductor Jonathan Gorst, the outstanding pit orchestra fills the theatre with the emotional music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the lyrics by Charles Hart. Directed by Harold Prince, a cast of 36 finds its marks for 19 different scenes. The energy generated on stage is palpable. The intricacy of the sets, the engineering required to swing from one scene to another (54 motors are used to fly scenery on and off stage), the unseen use of pulley, winch, a radio-controlled boat moving through dry ice fog, the crashing of the 1,000-pound chandelier - and more - support the human drama that swirls about the damsel in distress.

The familiar arias - "The Music of the Night," 'All I Ask of You" - are performed with passion that stirs the soul by John Cudia (Phantom), Trista Moldovan (Christine), and Sean MacLaughlin (Raoul). The costumes (230) are electrifying. The entire company is a well-oiled machine which imparts spontaneity. To transport this show required twenty 48-foot semi trucks. In turn, this production transported individual theatergoers into a rapt, wildly-appreciative audience. Applause explosions rivaled the startling pyrotechnic effects.

"Phantom of the Opera" is an over-the-top WOW.