A new chandelier, updated special effects and a sense that the main characters have spent some time in a therapist’s chair: these are all changes included in Cameron Mackintosh's new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's “The Phantom of the Opera.”
This new incarnation of “The Phantom” opened Wednesday night at The Fox for a 12-day run. The next day, the media were summoned to see something old and something new: the fresh chandelier and a few of the original costumes. They were also invited to interview stage manager Heather Chockley and a couple of cast members.
Katie Travis plays Christine Daaé. At 27, the Michigan native is nearly the same age as the show. Travis first saw “The Phantom” in Toronto when she was 4 years old. “I loved it, then,” Travis said.
Travis has now seen the original version five or six times, and watched about a dozen rehearsals of the updated play. She says the new show is much more empowering for Christine.
“Instead of Christine being sort of hypnotized and the Phantom being some sort of magician, it’s about her deciding to go through the mirror, her deciding to go into the lair, her deciding who to end up with, whether it’s Raul or the Phantom,” Travis said.
The Phantom’s motivations are also different, according to stage manager Chockley.
“He’s less of this magical mystery man and more of this, sort of tortured soul who has a pure artistic vision that he’s really trying to get across,” Chockley said.
The artistry of the new chandelier is also apparent, complete with a new entrance and new “dance moves," according to Chockley. The one-ton lighting device travels in its own semi-truck. It’s made of more than 6,000 beads, all double-knotted. “So in case one of them breaks, not everything goes ‘whoosh’ all over the floor,” Chockley said.
But the songs as well as the costumes are all unchanged. The costumes are laundered after each show. The Act One dress and jacket of opera diva Carlotta weigh about 20 pounds, and the dress is equipped with suspenders to help hold it up. The materials of the outfit, alone, cost $10,000. Labor brings it up to $35,000. “The most expensive piece of clothing I’ve ever held and probably ever will,” Chockley said.
But do changes make 'Phantom' better?
When St. Louisan Jennifer Parker, 35, first heard the music from "The Phantom" in 1991, she was enchanted. The next Halloween, Parker donned a black cape and used white face paint to fashion a Phantom mask. Two years later, she finally saw the musical. As a bullied and often depressed kid, she said, the musical turned her life around.
Growing up and as a young adult, she saw the play five more times. In her 20s, she visited Paris and spent several days exploring the Paris Opera House, where the story takes place. She calls herself a true "Phan" who's read every book including the original and knows the words to every song.
On Wednesday night, Parker, now a nurse at St. Louis Children's Hospital, saw the new version. She agreed that Christine seemed to be making her own choices.
"Yes, I definitely got that," Parker said.
She also agreed the Phantom was driven by his artistic vision more than his desire for Christine. But that made him a less sympathetic character, she said.
"Like a creepy stalker," she said.
Plus, she said, new blocking choices keep characters more physically distant from one another, which makes for a less emotional experience.
"[In the past] it made me want to go home and listen to the music but last night, I was just like, 'meh,'" she said.
Much of the show now seems more like the movie version, Parker said. She liked the way the new set and pyrotechnics added to the experience. She enjoyed the manner in which the chandelier fell, but she missed the way it used to appear to gather itself up from the stage, ascend and then fall to the seats below.
She wouldn't go see this version again. Still, she would attend a revival of the original. But she recommends this new incarnation for others.
"Definitely, if you've never seen it before or you're not like a die-hard fan like I am, you probably would enjoy it a lot more."
Cameron Mackintosh's new production 'The Phantom of the Opera'
Where: The Fox Theatre, 527 N. Grand Blvd., 63103
When: Through Sunday, March 15
How much: $35-$150
Tickets: Metrotix website
Information: Fox Theatre website
Listen to "The Music of the Night," sung by Michael Crawford with Sarah Brightman, of the original London cast.
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Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL