By Tristan Lejeune
The Phantom of the Opera has gotten better with age.
Back in the late ’80s, its super-sincere melodrama and fortissimo emotional palate were certainly less complex or sophisticated than contemporaries Into the Woods or Les Miserables. But if you’re still the type, 30 years later, to order the cheese plate, you can’t complain when it’s fucking cheesy.
Coloratura will be trilled. Capes will be whipped around bent elbows. It’s not “the Phantom of the opera is there.” It’s “the PHAAAN-tomoftheopera is there” (sinister pause) “… inside your mind.”
And it’s such a hoot. Seriously, grab a candelabra and get into it.
No one has to tell that to The Voice finalist Chris Mann, whose performance as the title character leaves nothing to be desired in the production currently visiting the Kennedy Center. Ever since Michael Crawford first donned the half-mask, directors have opted for tenors who can show the strong side of reedy, and Mann sings and skulks with skill under the direction of Laurence Connor. As one of classic literature’s most stalky stalkers, he doesn’t waste time trying to win over the audience’s sympathy.
Never has a musical seen a female lead more boring or devoid of self-agency than Christine Daaé. What she lacks in depth, however, she makes up for in solos. Understudy Kaitlyn Davis sings like a bird, and considering she’s playing a chorus girl who lands her “lucky” break, it felt like kismet watching her get to step in.
You’d never know Davis was an understudy, in part because of how she lands “Think of Me” (the show’s most transpose-able tune), in part because of her natural chemistry with both Mann and Storm Lineberger’s rakish young suitor, Raoul.
All three of the leads — and indeed the rest of the cast — understand that subtlety would be wasted here. If it’s subtle you want, you’re at the wrong show.
You want brocaded costumes, however, and designer Maria Björnson has you well-covered. You want beautiful conch-shell sets in the Kennedy Center’s Opera House, and you’re in luck with the work from Paul Brown.
The choreography is as boring as it ever was, but that’s true of a lot of actual operas, too. It’s the melodies that are crowd-pleasers, and the crowd looked well-pleased.
Someone older and more clever than I once said Andrew Lloyd Webber was the first musical composer to make Hollywood blockbusters for the stage. Well if Webber is Michael Bay, this is hisThe Rock; it’s aged far better than Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar or Sunset Boulevard.
Phantom of the Opera is probably, on its own, keeping a smoke machine maker or two in business. Red roses, shadowy graves, giggling ballet dancers and an underworld gondola also all make an appearance.
Cheesy? Oh yeah. As hell. But every now and then what you need is a big ol’ plate of delicious cheese.