THIS PHANTOM REALLY IS SPECTACULAR!
By Esther Lynn
Photo by Joan Marcus
Descriptive words like "New," "Improved," "Groundbreaking," "Blockbuster," "Incredible," and, of course, "Spectacular," are often overused to pitch everything from soup and soap to nuts and nutcrackers. In the case of the major production inhabiting the newly created opera house at The Venetian, any of these terms to describe Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular are applicable and suitable. Under the circumstances, adding the word "Spectacular" to Andrew Lloyd Webber's biggest success, Phantom of the Opera, seems almost an understatement.
About 13 years ago, as a birthday gift for me, my daughter purchased tickets for the Los Angeles company of Phantom, starring the man most associated with the role, Michael Crawford. We drove in from Las Vegas for a matinee performance of this much talked about show. We were not disappointed. Sitting in the theater after the final curtain, while drying our tears (the ending is quite emotional) and reflecting on the production we had just enjoyed, it was decided that another trip from Las Vegas to see the show again was in our future. We never got back to the Ahmanson Theatre, but now, more than a decade later, the Phantom has come to us. This production loses nothing without a well-recognized name (like Crawford) in the lead. The requirements of the cast for Phantom are strong vocal skills. This talented troupe certainly meets those requirements.
The most successful theatrical endeavor of all time, The Phantom of the Opera has grossed more than $3 billion worldwide since its London's West End premiere in 1986. Phantom has played more than 65,000 performances in 22 countries and 110 cities, and dazzled more than 100 million people. After its New York opening, the musical went on to sweep the 1988 Tonys, winning seven of the awards including Best Musical, along with seven Drama Desk Awards and three Outer Critics Circle Awards. In January 2006, Phantom became the longest-running show in Broadway history, surpassing another of Webber's greatest hits, Cats.
You probably know the story line. At an auction for the remnants of the now shuttered and empty Paris Opera House, an old man bids on a music box that seems to hold some special memories for him. Flashing back, the musical tells the story of the hideously deformed Phantom who lurks beneath the stage of the theater, terrorizing its current occupants. The Phantom falls in love with the beautiful, young soprano, Christine, and devotes himself to making her the Opera's new star. Who will win Christine's heart? Will it be the masked teacher Christine calls the Angel of Music, or the young, handsome Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny? You will have to see for yourselves.
Broadway stars Brent Barrett (with Annie Get Your Gun, Chicago and a really terrific Kander & Ebb CD among his credits) and Anthony Crivello (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Evita, Les Miserables) alternate performances as The Phantom due to the vocal demands of the score. The roles of Christine and Carlotta are also double-cast, with Christine being played by Sierra Boggess, who was seen regionally in Les Miserables, and Elizabeth Loyacano whose Broadway credits include Oklahoma! and The Woman in White. Musical diva Carlotta is played by Elena Jeanne Batman, who comes direct from the same role on Broadway, and Geena Jeffries, seen in the same role in the San Francisco company of Phantom. (The accompanying photo shows Brent Barrett behind the famed mask, and Elizabeth Loyacano as the Phantom's muse.)
Also joining Phantom at The Venetian directly from the Broadway cast is Tim Martin Gleason playing the role of Raoul, and Larry Wayne Morbitt, who brings 11 years of Phantom experience to The Venetian stage as opera tenor Ubaldo Piangi. Rebecca Spencer playing Madame Giry, John Leslie Wolfe (a Hal Prince Evita alum) as Andre, Lawson Skala portraying Firmin, Justin Lee Miller as Don Attilio and Buquet, while Brianne Kelly Morgan is Meg Giry.
The 41-member acting company, including credited "stunt men," also consists of Eric Braun, Doug Carfrae (who appeared here at the Desert Inn with Jack Jones, Maureen McGovern and Frank Gorshin in 1995), Courtney Combs, Steven Dietrich, Maureen Dodson, Amanda Edge, Bruce Ewing (late of the long running Las Vegas version of Forever Plaid), Benjamin Hale, Marcia Cope Hart, Kristen Hertzenberg, Steven Hood, Amanda Huddleston, Ted Keegan, Michael Lackey, Luke Lazzaro, Patrick Leveque, Mabel Modrono, Erina Noda, Kevan Patriquin, Stephen Price, Nicole Pryor, Rebekah Raun, Marc Cedric Smith, Joan Sobel, Deana Villei, Jessica Walker, Danielle White and Donald Williams.
Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular was specifically created to fit into the new custom-built $40 million theatre at The Venetian. In this Broadway West production, the famed chandelier plays an even more integral role than in the past, drawing gasps and applause from the audience just for its grandeur and magnitude. We sat directly under that incredible one-ton fixture and when it �never mind, you need to see it for yourself. The idea is to make the venue feel like the haunted Paris Opera House, where most of the musical takes place. That goal - from the grandly costumed mannequin/spectators watching things unfold from elegant balcony boxes above the audience, to the wonderful sets and glorious costumes - is more than achieved.
The Phantom of the Opera features music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart, additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe, book by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber. It was originally produced by Cameron Mackintosh and The Really Useful Theatre Company, Inc.
Now trimmed to a tight 95-minutes, with no intermission, the Vegas production still manages to include each and every song from the original. The clever editing was done under the guiding hands of Lloyd Webber and director Harold Prince. Prince, who was scheduled to receive a Lifetime Achievement Tony during the June 11, 2006, ceremonies in New York, turned down the live television appearance, choosing instead to remain in Las Vegas to prepare for the shows first preview on June 12. The show's original director and winner of 20 Tonys, Hal Prince opted to accept his latest award via satellite.
Phantom at The Venetian is produced by The Really Useful Theatre Company, Inc., Live Nation and BASE Entertainment. The absolutely beautiful theatre was designed by David Rockwell of the Rockwell Group. A North American national touring production of Phantom of the Opera the show continues its New York run at Broadway's Majestic Theatre.
There were three relatively minor problems we encountered when seeing Phantom in late July. Number one was difficulty hearing some of the dialogue during speaking segments, number two was the slow elevator (used primarily by the elderly and disabled with mobility equipment) when exiting the theater, and third was the fact that the Phantom brochures were not yet available for purchase one month into their, hopefully, long-term engagement at The Venetian. Of course there are the usual free programs handed out as you enter the theater, but the lack of colorful souvenir books means departing audience members, who saw the show early in its run, will have no pictures of the incredible and spectacular (there are those words again) theater to share with family and friends. Absolutely no photography is permitted in the opera house, not even after the show is over and the room is illuminated.
Here's a strange bit of nonsensical, pretty much useless, trivia. The number 18 comes into play numerous times in connection with the Las Vegas theatrical event - and an event it is. The time frame of the musical tale takes place beginning in the late 1800s. From the overture through the finale, the very live 18-piece orchestra, conducted by Jack Gaughan, fills the 1800-seat theater with goose bumps and anticipation for, according to the program, 18 wonderful musical numbers. Okay, so this isn't necessary information in the overall scheme of things, but since I picked up on it, I'm passing it on to you. You're welcome.
I would like to make mention of what I consider to be a rather strange and unusual situation encountered when making plans to see the show. Even as an almost 30-year entertainment writer in this wonderful city, the management company for Phantom (Gill Theatrical Management who also has or had a hand in the Las Vegas productions of Mamma Mia!, Hairspray, We Will Rock You and Chicago) refused to tell me which lead actors would be performing on certain nights. When I asked why, I was told that it was for "security reasons" i.e. "stalkers and terrorists." Would I make this stuff up? Poor Michael Crawford, who for three-and-a-half years put his well-being in jeopardy for every performance during his run as the Phantom in London, on Broadway and in Los Angeles (the show has been running somewhere ever since 1986), not to mention all the other major and minor actors who are in practically every performance. Thanks, you talented folks, for risking your lives for our enjoyment.