Much of the excitement in revisiting a great classic like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera comes from anticipation of the most familiar favorite moments.
But there’s also the hope of new discoveries, something you hadn’t really noticed before that adds to your appreciation of the musical. Both rewards were abundant in the new touring version that continues at the Orpheum Theater thru Sunday, May 1.
The familiar, especially the haunting songs sung beautifully with operatic power and control, ranged from the first unveiling of the dazzling chandelier to the mechanical monkey that rises from the music box and claps cymbals.
The surprises come not only from new staging but from touches that might have slipped past you in earlier viewings. Whether new or not, the line “things do happen,” foreshadowing the Phantom’s vengeful sabotage of the opera somehow underlined the thundering musical chords that threatened of disastrous events.
The most striking innovation came with a massive revolving set that allowed smooth and speedy transitions from the opera stage or a masquerade ball to the gothic depths of the Phantom’s dungeon lair. Never has “back stage” taken on such elaborate meaning than when the masked “ghost” (Chris Mann) drags Christine (Katie Travis) through concealed doors and down winding stairs to ride a gondola to his hidden home below.
Even before Mann and Travis air their memorable voices, Carlotta (Jacquelynne Fontaine) provides the first thrill of vocal quality not usually heard in touring musicals. From the early “Think of Me” to the Mann and Travis duet on the title song, the bar is set high for Mann’s solo on “The Music of the Night.”
While he comes with the most acclaimed credits and performs admirably, Mann still competes with memories of the original performance by Michael Crawford. But Katie Travis not only made me forget earlier Christines, but left me longing to have heard her as Rosabella in Most Happy Fella.
The third lead, Storm Lineberger as her other love interest and would-be protector, was a satisfying Raoul, though not vocally as impactful as his first name.
There’s nothing to complain about in the cast and certainly not in the orchestra with a dozen local hires joining the touring regulars. In fact, my only complaint involved lighting, a problem partly justified by the dark setting of the labyrinthian lair.
Still, in one scene, it was hard to see if Christine had stripped the Phantom of his mask, and at other times faces were lost in shadows. It’s arguable, of course, that obscurity was necessary and effective, especially in a setting where “things do happen.”
It would take a more obsessive Phantom fan to make every distinction between this version and the previous Cameron Mackintosh creation, but along with the hugely successful round, rotating wall was the heavier use of fireworks. The Phantom seemed to have the super-hero capacity to send flames soaring, perhaps by snapping his fingers.
I have no quarrel with the casting of Chris Mann, a decision which blessed us with his vocal gifts while giving us a man closer in age to Christine. Having accepted that, there’s still something to be said for an older man in the role, his more mature anger contrasting with the innocence of the girl he desires.
The Phantom of the Opera runs through May 1 with matinees Friday-Sunday, 7:30 p.m. shows Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday as parts of Omaha Performing Arts Broadway Across America series at the Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. in downtown Omaha. Tickets from $30 to $155 are available at ticketomaha.com, 402.345.0606 or the Holland Center box office.