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Theater Review: "Phantom of the Opera"

“Phantom of the Opera” runs through September 2, 2018, at San Diego Civic Theatre, 3rd and B Streets, downtown.
Photo credit:
Broadway SD

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” has been on Broadway nonstop for the past 30 years (the longest-running musical in Broadway history), so it must be doing something right. It’s never been one of my favorites, so feel free to ignore the following dyspeptic comments.

“Phantom” is back in San Diego through Sept. 2 at San Diego Civic Theatre. It’s a big Cameron Mackintosh production with a new set design by Paul Brown, a new director (Laurence Connor), new choreography by Scott Ambler and a big cast and orchestra that number 52.

The story hasn’t changed much, just the look. The Phantom (Quentin Oliver Lee) is still lurking in the Paris Opera, frightening people and making (unreasonable) demands of the new owners. He backs up his threats by making things inexplicably (and noisily) crash to the stage at inconvenient intervals.

One problem with the show for me is that I’ve never known why he’s mad (or, for that matter, why he’s deformed). Is it that nobody likes his music? Did he own the opera at one time? What’s the deal?

This version starts with a scene I’ve always found puzzling – an auction of items belonging to the opera company. Why? Are they in financial straits, going out of business, getting rid of junk or what? You mean an opera company can’t survive a little thing like a chandelier crashing into the audience? It didn’t help that the initial sound level precluded comprehensible conversation in this scene on opening night.

The plot largely revolves around the Phantom (Quentin Oliver Lee), the up-and-coming young soprano Christine (Eva Tavares), her wannabe boyfriend Raoul (Jordan Craig) and the diva Carlotta (Trista Moldovan). Carlotta is jealous of the pretty young thing, and Raoul doesn’t understand Christine’s seeming attraction to the Phantom (neither does she, which leads to all sorts of trouble).

The good news here is that the principals are really fine, most especially Eva Tavares, whose stratospheric soprano as Christine is really spectacular. Moldovan has an equally powerful voice and her Carlotta makes a great dramatic foil for Christine.

Lee’s voice is strong and easy to listen to, and with his height the Phantom is an imposing presence when you do see him.

Paul Brown’s set will be recognizable to regular theatergoers, with all the foldability, turning possibilities and movability we’re used to these days, though I’m not sure tossing modernity into this old story helps it much.

The costumes (by Maria Björnson) are not new for this production, but they are just as spectacular as they were in earlier incarnations.

“Phantom” has had a long and prosperous run for 30 years, and looks like it may run forever. If you’ve never seen it – or if you love it – here’s your chance.

The details

“Phantom of the Opera” runs through September 2, 2018, at San Diego Civic Theatre, 3rd and B Streets, downtown.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm

Tickets: (619) 570-1100 or broadwaysd.com