Mirvish brings a new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera to Toronto
If you’re a Toronto theatre-goer of a certain vintage, The Phantom of the Opera will hold a certain significance for you. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s bombastic ‘80s mega-musical melodrama was a bonafide pop culture phenomenon. The original Canadian production opened in 1989 at the Pantages (now Ed Mirvish) Theatre and ran for over a decade.
For the musical’s 25th anniversary, the show was dusted off and a new tour was mounted with a brand new staging by director Laurence Connor. It’s this new touring production that Mirvish is currently presenting in Toronto at the Princess of Wales Theatre so the show’s “phans” can expect to see something new as they re-visit an old favourite.
Phantom was one of the first shows I saw live on stage as a child and it’s still a guilty pleasure of mine. Sure, the songs are a bit schmaltzy and the dialogue is kitschy, but the show is iconic and beloved by millions the world over and I was anxious to see how it had been updated.
Firstly, the score and book remain largely unchanged for this new production. And yes, all the memorable songs remain intact including Music of the Night, Think of Me, All I Ask of You, and that epic yet delightfully cheesy title song complete with the ‘80s synths.
Most of the costume designs from the original production by Maria Björnsson are also re-used in this new version. However, there’s a new scenic design concept by Paul Brown which features a large cylindrical set piece that rotates and reconfigures for different scenes. Projections by Nina Dunn are incorporated into the production, most effectively during a scene where ballet mistress Madame Giry tells the Phantom’s back-story and the projections create a shadow play to illustrate the narrative.
Some of the new production design elements are pretty slick, including the show’s big-ticket special effect: the chandelier. The moment when it plunges toward the audience is actually dramatic and thrilling now, whereas in the original version it looked kind of silly as it gingerly glided down.
During the title song, as the Phantom and his young protégé Christine Daaé make their journey to his subterranean lair, they descend a staircase where the steps emerge from the wall one at a time before receding again once the pair has passed. The effect looks very sleek.
The iconic boat in that scene also makes an appearance, but I do miss the imagery of the candles rising from the mist.
Other changes are more of a mixed bag. I miss the visual of the grand staircase set for the Act 2 opening New Year’s ball number Masquerade, but I really like the new choreography for the scene by Scott Ambler; it fills the stage nicely and makes the scene much more dynamic.
As for the performances, the young cast ably handles Lloyd Webber’s at times unwieldy score.
The title role is played by Chris Mann, whom you may remember as a contestant on the second season of The Voice. Mann is classically trained and has a lovely sounding tenor. I have a personal preference for the more classical-sounding Phantoms, so I enjoyed his performance.
Katie Travis plays the young ingénue Christine Daaé with all the requisite wide-eyed naïveté required. She also sings with a charming lilt which also suits the character.
Storm Lineberger plays Christine’s aristocratic paramour Raoul and, in what is perhaps a directorial choice to set up the events for Lloyd Webber’s much-ridiculed Phantom sequel Love Never Dies, the character seems to be played as a bit more of an arrogant jerk in this version of the show.
In the end I really liked this Phantom‘s dynamic new staging, and I think it improves the overall flow of the show. This new version gives the show just enough of a refresh without really changing any of the core elements. Those who love Phantom ought to be satisfied with the new production and it should also win over a new generation of fans.
- The Phantom of the Opera is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King Street West) through January 23, 2016
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m., and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., check the website for Holiday schedule
- Tickets $59.00 to $130.00
- Tickets are available by phone at 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333, in-person at the Princes of Wales Theatre box office or online at Mirvish.com
Photo of Chris Mann and Katie Travis by Matthew Murphy