Some shows are built for success. The cast, the direction, and the venue all hardly matter for some musicals, which boast such a strong infrastructure they are essentially foolproof.
“The Phantom of the Opera” is one such show. Returning to the Fox Theatre stage through March 15, “Phantom” is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece and is almost always a guaranteed success.
Few shows reach this exalted status as most are still pretty easy to screw up (miscast Jean Valjean, for example, and watch “Les Miz” go up in smoke).
Shows of the sound stature of “Phantom” are built on three pillars: music, story, and production.
Webber really outdid himself here as most of his musicals feature one or two great songs surrounded with a lot of filler, there’s not a watch-checker to be found here as he rolls out memorable tunes like “Think of Me,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Music of the Night,” “All I Ask of You” and “Masquerade.” It also doesn’t hurt that by mimicking the structure of an opera, Webber is able to repeat musical themes giving him a lot more mileage out of the show’s stronger songs.
The story is solid and familiar, lifted from the gothic French novel of the same name. Beautiful and talented ingenue Christine (Katie Travis) is a chorus girl in a Parisian opera who receives tutelage from a mysterious figure known as the Phantom (Chris Mann), who lives in the catacombs below the opera house.
Christine becomes an unexpected star when filling in for prima donna Carlotta (Jacquelynne Fontaine) and romance blossoms when the opera’s wealthy patron Raoul (Storm Lineberger) turns out to be a childhood friend.
Things start to go sideways when a jealous Phantom starts making increasingly dangerous mischief throughout the opera.
It’s a classic beauty-and-the-beast theme dressed up with capes and candles and remains satisfying time after time.
Lastly, “Phantom” is all about the spectacle and has always traded on its lavish production. The show has gotten a few technological upgrades that make the proceedings even more impressive. From massive statues to emerging staircases to subterranean boat trips to flying chandeliers, “Phantom” has all the flashes and bangs to make it the gold standard of theatrical technological wizardry.
The only variable that makes much difference from production to production is the cast. Travis is the clear vocal star of the show in a part that is vital but usually gets overshadowed. She shows how essential the character of Christine truly is and, when done well, changes some of the interpersonal dynamics.
The rest of the cast is competent if not unremarkable. Mann is a little uneven as the Phantom and is probably best known as a finalist on “The Voice.” Singing reality shows have increasingly become the go-to talent pool for touring productions.
Mann gets a bit of a pass because you can tell he is having a difficult time singing under several layers of caked-on makeup as this production’s Phantom is particularly ghoulish.
When all is said and done, this show is what musical theater is all about. It is impressive in so many ways and not to be missed for the uninitiated. It’s one of the few shows that literally brings the house down.
“The Phantom of the Opera” is now playing at the Fox Theatre through March 15. For tickets, call (314)-534-1111 or go to metrotix.com.