The Phantom of the Opera US Tour: Reimagined or Ruined?

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As most Phans know, there have been many changes to the US tour production of The Phantom of the Opera. No longer does the same version that’s shown on Broadway (thank God the original is still shown on Broadway) and that was originally designed by Maria Bjornson tour across the United States. Yes, it’s the same music, and the storyline is pretty much the same, but there have been some tweaks to some wording, movements, the set and so on.

Some Phans love the changes. Others hate it. I saw some YouTube videos of the changes and wasn’t too impressed with them. In fact, I hated them. Still, I was reserving my final verdict until I saw the “reimagined” version myself.

I bought my tickets months in advance when I found out the show was coming to TPAC in Nashville. In fact, I bought them the day they went on sale. I splurged and got front-row tickets for the 8 o’clock show for Friday night, November 2nd, 2018, so that I could see everything in minute detail. I looked forward to the day of the show with mixed feelings of anticipation and curious trepidation. I was excited because yay, it’s Phantom, but I was also cautious, wondering what to expect – if I would still leave the theater with that same sense of amazement I’d become accustomed to when seeing the show performed live.

The Verdict

I really liked the show. Of course, it had Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beautiful Phantom of the Opera score, so that immediately makes me really like it. The set was impressive, and all the performers had great voices.

However…

I cannot say that I just loved the show. It was a bit of a let-down for me. When I go to see the musical that I love most in the world, I should come out of the theater saying, “Wow! I loved it!” I couldn’t really do that this time. Sure, I liked it. I’ll even go so far as to say I really liked it, but I wasn’t just wowed, blown away, if you know what I mean?

I still had mixed feelings. Why did I feel this way? Because there were some changes that were okay and others that I absolutely hated.

What I Loved

I did love the new opulence of the managers’ office. That was quite a nice touch and really made their scenes come alive.

I also loved the way they made it appear as if it was actually snowing during the rooftop scene.

I loved the way we learned a bit more about the Phantom’s history with the gypsies from Raoul’s conversation with Madame Giry. (However, I didn’t like how she called him a monster because I’d always believed Madame Giry took pity on him and saw him as a genius.)

I loved Carlotta (played by Trista Moldovan). Her expressions were great. She was funny and played the diva perfectly. I also loved Piangi (played by Phumzile Sojola). He was a loveable character too.

Actually, these are really the only things that I totally loved about the reimagined production.

What I Hated

Get ready because this list will be way longer. Lol.

The Wigs

Okay, first of all, I absolutely hated the wigs. I know it seems like such a little thing, but to me, it’s one of those little things that makes a huge difference.

Let’s start with the Phantom. I do not like the messy wig with the hair that falls in his eyes. Yeah, I know that hair falling over a man’s forehead on one side is typically seen as sexy, but it doesn’t work for the Phantom. It simply doesn’t. He was soooo meticulous in his appearance. After being trapped in a dirty cage when he was imprisoned by the gypsies, it’s really not believable that he’d allow his wig to be anything less than meticulous either. I like the traditional slicked back wig. That makes him look more put-together and presents that powerful front that I believe the Phantom needed to present to enter his Phantom persona.

Next, are the girls’ wigs, Christine’s wig especially. What is up with the really loose curls and that half-bun updo? It looked horrible and totally was not in keeping with the Victorian era. I like the original wigs where the ballet dancers, including Christine, had those really long, down to their waist, ringlets. Perfect and pretty and no ugly half bun on their heads. Christine’s especially was bad because it was frizzy and just looked a mess. They modernized the wigs too much to make it look like the kind of hair that girls have today, but it’s important to remember that this story took place in the Victorian era – not in today’s world.

The Costumes

Some of the costumes were okay, but then others looked like something I would expect to see out of a high school or college production. The Phantom’s iconic Red Death costume, for instance. It was a lamentable mess. They tried too hard to reference the Red Death costume from the 2004 film, and it just ended up looking cheap to me.

Christine’s masquerade dress was also a bit lackluster. It seemed like it was missing some of the glitter, stars and other finer details that made it the beautiful costume that it’s known to be. Plus, she wasn’t wearing her beautiful masquerade boots, but rather, these little pink high heels.

The Set

I’ve got this listed under the what I hate section, but I really didn’t hate all these elements. Rather, I favored the original version more.

The masquerade scene. The masquerade scene was impressive. They did make it look like the convincing interior of the Paris Garnier. However, I miss the huge staircase that the performers danced down. It made a much bigger impact to me than the new set. The choreography was amazing when all the performers as an entire company danced down the steps in perfect synchronization. However, I will say that the end of the masquerade scene when the Phantom appears did make it possible for them to make a reference to the Phantom’s mirror torture chamber that the musical originally didn’t do.

The journey to the lair scene. I’ll admit. It was pretty cool how the steps came out of the huge revolving set and made it look like the Phantom was really leading Christine down the stairs of the Paris Opera House. And there was a boat. However, I really missed the candelabras coming up out of the floor and the misty lake complete with the portcullis. To me, that was one of the most magical scenes, but without those magic candelabras, the effect is rather lackluster.

The lair itself. The lair itself probably looked a bit more realistically like what the Phantom’s lair would have looked like. It had a real bed, a few candles, the organ, a stand of sheet music and other typical bedroom accessories. However, I missed that original look of the swan bed and because there was not portcullis, the final lair scene with the Phantom tying Raoul up was totally different. Plus, the Phantom is missing his iconic black throne chair, so that totally made the final lair scene different too.

The rooftop. The rooftop was changed to feature an impressive stature supposed to be Apollo’s Lyre, but I favor the original rooftop. Part of the reason for this is because I always loved how when the Phantom sings his reprise to All I Ask of You, he was on the beautiful golden angel that graced the top of the stage curtain. He’s not in this US Tour version. Instead, he’s on this statue on the stage. It’s not as powerful to me that way.

The graveyard scene. I don’t like the new Daae grave. I miss the old graveyard where the Phantom stood atop the mausoleum like a supernatural being and issued fire. Here, he was ground level prowling around the back of the grave.

Acting Changes

This is one of the most important sections for me because this directly affects the storyline. There weren’t a ton of acting changes, but there were enough that it affected and annoyed me.

First of all, I hate how much the Phantom manhandles Christine. It makes me think he’s abusive. Erik loved Christine and wouldn’t have physically hurt her that much had he been in his right mind. In the original production, he doesn’t throw her on the bed or violently push her down so much. It makes him out to be more of a villain than a sympathetic character, in my opinion.

I’m not crazy about how Christine doesn’t get to faint at the end of The Music of the Night. However, the Phantom does pick her up and carry her over to the bed and place her on it before she gently falls off to sleep, so that was okay.

I’m not crazy about the changes to Christine’s Think of Me aria. She usually dances around with a scarf the whole time. Now she doesn’t have the scarf for the first half of the song. A couple of ballet dancers come out mid-way and hand it to her and then dance in the background while she continues singing. The added ballet dancers are okay, but the omission of Christine’s normal dance routine with the scarf throughout the entirety of the song was annoying. The first half she’s just kind standing there singing with her arms looking odd not moving much.

The unmasking scene. Oh dear, the unmasking scene. Instead of Christine pulling his mask off, the Phantom already has his mask off while she’s sleeping. He doesn’t know she’s awakened, and she sneaks up and grabs it where it’s laying and runs off with it like a silly child. In doing so, she sees his face of course, which leads to disaster, but I so hated that change. In the original, he’d been playing his music, and she pulls it off from behind like she’s possibly entranced or hypnotized by his music or something. In this version, that is not a possibility. She was just a brat.

Speaking of Christine, her character just seemed a bit off to me. The actress was Emma Grimsley and her voice was great. However, the character in general (possibly because of all the changes) was annoying. Usually when I watch Phantom I feel that Christine did actually love him and she was afraid of that love. I didn’t get that this time. Rather, it was clear (especially in The Point of No Return by the way she noticeably nodded to Raoul and the gendarmes) that she was in complete control of her faculties and betraying the Phantom, that she was frightened of him and harbored no feelings of love. You couldn’t argue that she was under his hypnotic spell in this point of no return scene because she’s clearly just carrying out Raoul and the managers’ plan.

To take the matter further, she doesn’t even have the decency to hand him back his ring at the end of the final lair scene. That was always one of the most heartbreaking parts to me – when she gave him back the ring and he took it from her hand and held on to her hand as long as he could until she broke away and ran off crying. That didn’t happen in this one. She kind of sneaks up behind him with Raoul and watches him singing, Christine, I lo-o-ove you, and lays the ring on his organ and walks off with Raoul – no tears, nothing.

Speaking of tears, that was one of my biggest problems with this Phantom. Quentin Oliver Lee played the Phantom, and his voice was great, but it wasn’t quite dark enough for my taste. That being said, I think he did really well, but I didn’t like the way he didn’t exhibit the crying and brokenness that I expect from the Phantom after Christine chooses Raoul.

As far as Raoul goes, I wasn’t impressed with how pompous and arrogant his character was. Raoul is supposed to be sweet and kind of like a puppy dog. He seemed a little too smug for my taste in this version, especially when he supposedly punched the Phantom in the graveyard scene. Come on, really? Do you really think the Phantom would have allowed Raoul to get close enough to him to punch him? That part was totally unbelievable and laughable. The Phantom was agile and great at disappearing when he wanted to. To allow Raoul to appear to best him was insulting to his character.

There was a point where Christine even slapped Raoul. I had mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I’m like, “You go, Christine. Stand up for yourself.” On the other, it seemed so out of character for Christine’s young, naive, sweet little disposition.

And even more about Christine…her point of no return…she gets up on the table and is dancing during her part of the song. She looks like a stripper or something, and it was just totally bizarre. I liked the original choreography better where she’s standing behind the Phantom and their fingers entwine and rub along his body. It’s much more sensual to me that way. This way was just kind of trashy looking and, again, seemed totally out of character for Christine.

I mentioned before how the lair was missing the black throne, so naturally the Phantom doesn’t disappear that way. Instead, Meg grabs his standing cloak and he’s gone, his mask on the floor. It wasn’t too bad a change, but I missed the throne. It totally affected the Phantom’s performance in the final lair scene. I liked the way he used to sit on the throne in his anger.

Word Changes

There weren’t too many very noticeable word changes in the songs. The only one I really noticed was in Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again. Instead of singing

Passing bells and sculpted angels
Cold and monumental
Seem for you the wrong companions
You were warm and gentle”

Christine sings

“Three long years I knelt in silence
Held your memory near me
Three long years of murmured sorrows
Willing you to hear me”

This word change doesn’t really bug me too much. However, it does make Christine more assertive in her realization that her father let her down, which could also be seen as a bit out of character for her.

Why the Changes?

Like many Phans, I wondered why would they change something that’s been doing so well for 30 years now. In short, I think they wanted to “reimagine” it for a modern audience and appeal to all those Phans of the 2004 film more. Many of the new changes made me think of the film, and while I’m a huge fan of the film, I didn’t like seeing all those changes to what I’d come to love about the stage version.

Also, I bought a souvenir program (of course), and it stated in there that they were seeking a set and props that would be more practical for touring. I had heard of many technical malfunctions with the original boat and the candelabras during previous tours, so maybe some of these changes were done to help eliminate the possibility of that kind of stuff happening as much.

As far as some of the choreography changes, maybe some of that is due to the stress that it puts on the performers. Maybe some things were simplified to make it easier on them. That’s just my speculation, though.

Overall Impression

Again, even after writing all that out, I can say that I really liked the production. I still got tingles when the overture came on. The music and lyrics were still amazingly beautiful. However, I didn’t get tears in my eyes during the final lair scene, and if asked who my favorite character was, I’d have to say Carlotta. Those two facts alone let me know that something is wrong (for me anyway).

I will admit that I do think I’m just spoiled to the original version and the Vegas version. My dad (who isn’t really into musical theater) and grandmother (who’d never seen Phantom) both loved it, so ultimately the show must have done what it was supposed to do. We had great seats too and could see everything in exquisite detail, so that certainly didn’t harm anything. I also think that had I not already been acquainted with the former version, I would have loved this one. As it is, I am very glad I got to see it. The performance was great, even if it wasn’t what I expected, but I do miss the original version and wish that the US Tour would go back to the way it was.

Have you seen the reimagined US Tour? If so, what are your thoughts?

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