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Tony Winner

Tony Winner

Mr. Lewis makes a fine meal of the role. His Phantom is imposing in his willfulness, as his lustrous voice comes booming down from the heavens, and touching in his energetic but unrequited love for Christine.

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times

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BWW Reviews: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Haunts Audiences at Saenger Theatre

The Saenger Theatre has been turned into the Opera Populaire from Nov. 5-16 as the "Broadway in New Orleans" season brings in Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic musical, "THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA" to New Orleans.

Based on the classic novel Le Fantôme de L'Opera by Gaston Leroux, "PHANTOM" tells the story of a masked figure who lurks in the deep catacombs of the Paris Opera House, exercising a reign of terror over its inhabitants. He falls passionately in love with an innocent young soprano, Christine, and devotes himself to turning his ingénue into the next operatic star, both by nurturing her talent and stopping anyone who dares to cross him.

Still attracting crowds to its 26-year Broadway run, "PHANTOM" has been seen by more than 130 million people. The question lies, how do you keep the essence of the show, but give it a fresh update? The story is as phanatics remember, (and the infamous chandelier still falls), but the production has undergone a restaging for touring to keep the production from feeling dated. After a tour of Britain from the spring of 2012 through May 2013, the reconceived musical began its U.S. tour featuring new scenery, choreography and orchestrations, along with noticeable shifts in tone and character.

Technically speaking, "PHANTOM" has always been astounding, but with Paul Brown's set design the updated version is stupendous. Originally, everything was suggestive, but this cylindrical set is very real, and offers a 360-degree tour of the opera house. Audiences get more of a sense of the backstage corridors, the dressing rooms, the managers' office, the rooftop, and Christine's journey down to the Phantom's lair. The set itself is a character, and one cannot help but lose themselves in the grand spectacle of it all during numbers such as "Masquerade" and "Phantom of the Opera."

There are additions to the performance that even the most dedicated should appreciate. The use of light, combined with projections, creates a magical atmosphere during "All I Ask of You" as the young lovers Christine and Raoul sing to one another beneath a full moon on the top of the opera house. Better still, is the use of projected shadows to portray a flashback of the origins of the Opera Ghost as Madame Giry recounts the tale.

For a show this grand, you also need grand performances, and "PHANTOM" does not disappoint. Julie Udine soars as Christine, a role made famous by original actress Sarah Brightman. And like Brightman, Udine's light, floaty soprano voice is lovely to hear. Fans of both classical and pop singing would not be disappointed in her performance.

Better still are some of the changes to Christine's character. While still perceived as innocent and demure, Udine gives her character some backbone, evidenced when Christine stands up to Carlotta's accusations and Raoul's persistence on using her to lure the Phantom. This time when she tells Raoul she's frightened, it's believable in her desperation to have her lover change his mind.

Cooper Grodin's Phantom may not be quite memorable as Phantoms in the past, as he struggled with his low range. Once he hit the high A flats, his song did take wing. Grodin's Phantom is still just as dark and irresistible as ever, but just like Christine, the Phantom's character received an update. The Phantom is no longer presented as being the only true artist in the opera house. While it takes away from the Phantom's love of music, and puts more focus on his obsession with Christine, it puts reflection on characters who are not just there to be terrorized. For example Carlotta, while in essence a diva, has the talent to justify it, and Jacquelynne Fontaine's dramatic performance brought forth her operatic training and diminished the traditional, comical caricature.

More significantly in the changes of the show, Christine doesn't remove the Phantom's mask, but rather sees his face when she catches him washing it. His reaction, however, is the same, though it feels unwarranted. Before, Christine had willingly done something without his permission, which was inexcusable in his eyes. Berating her for just being there at the wrong moment seemed forced.

Ben Jacoby's performance as the young noble Raoul deserves special mentioning, for he brought a new level of characterization to his performance. Never before have I seen a Raoul who shows just as much jealousy over Christine as the Phantom. Jacoby's Raoul may have had his heart in the right place, but he wants to control Christine as much as the Phantom. Their rivalry for Christine feels much more equal now, and it raises the question: did Christine chose the lesser of two evils in the finale? Raoul offered security, but Christine would live the life of a noblewoman, leaving the life of the opera behind. The Phantom offered her the chance to live out her dreams of a successful career, but she would always be under his murderous watch.

With a great cast, a great backstage team and a vastly improved set, New Orleans can look forward to enjoying this haunting production.

Article reprinted with permission from

What You Say

205 reviews, average rating: (4.4 Stars)

Mike: “The Best Show On Earth”

This is the best broadway you will ever see in your life...was into the sho... more

Nicole: “Absolutely Wonderful!”

I am 35, visited NY for the first time and being a fan of the 1943 version ... more

Danielle: “INSANE”

The Phantom of the Opera was probably one of the most AMAZING shows I've ev... more

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