Newly shaped ‘Phantom’ is a balm for the theater-lover’s soul

There are those quintessential Broadway shows; the ones which can be referred to by a singular name, as well as evoked by humming a mere bar or two. Topping the list (and the chandelier), is ‘Phantom.” A shadowy figure living under the Paris Opera House, a recently promoted chorus girl desperate for her chance and more love stories than Valentine’s Day all add up to a spectacle worth your francs.

If you go

Runs through Jan. 8, 2017

Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical–which currently holds the title of “longest running Broadway show”–has been re-invented with a splashy new staging by Cameron Mackintosh, directed by Laurence Connor and is running for a limited engagement at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. So what makes this version a must-see for newbies and seasoned theatergoers alike? Well, for starters, this is a streamlined version of the show, and it absolutely flies. The set, designed by Paul Brown, is a marvel of interlocking rooms that spin. “Like a dollhouse or a locket,” my seven year-old informed me. (By the way, this was her first ‘Phantom.’ It didn’t disappoint in the slightest.)

And as for that iconic chandelier? The entire crowd at the surprisingly intimate Cadillac Palace gasped when it was revealed–and when it later came crashing down. This show has melodrama for days, and the staging plays it to the hilt; I challenge any audience member to keep from palpitating at the chandelier’s reveal paired with those blasting chords from the organ.

That said, it’s clear that “Phantom of the Opera” was written in a time of extremely earnest synth (regardless of how powerful and perfect it remains), and moments in the script ring with jarring misogyny. (That same seven-year informed me that you don’t owe your freedom to anyone, regardless of what they’ve done for your opera career.) Given the late 1800s time frame of the story, however, a little female-as-possession can be forgiven, and young Christine’s recent loss of her beloved father makes her pretty much prime pickings for the whole “take you under my wing/cape” thing. (Besides, Christine is the one with the total power at the end of the show, much to the delight of my kid.)

And oh, those voices. Kate Travis’ ‘Christine’ glosses over notes which defy octave, and Derrick Davis as the Phantom is a marvel of emotion and range. (If ever there were a truly sympathetic Phantom, this guy would absolutely be it.) They’re joined by a wonderful cast and orchestra of 52, making this one of the largest shows on tour in North America.

In a theatrical season absolutely saturated with terrific productions, be sure to make room for this one; the “music of the night” will soar you into the new year with glamour, heart-swelling refrains and more than a little magic.

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