– PHOTO: Chris Mann as The Phantom and Katie Travis as Christine Daaé. Photo by Matthew Murphy ©

By Cate Marquis, Arts & Entertainment Editor for The Current

The new Cameron Mackintosh production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit “The Phantom of the Opera” is a glittering and entertaining show that is sure to please fans of the original, as well as anyone who has never seen it on stage, despite a few changes from the original. This Phantom, playing at the Fox Theater March 4-15, has new staging, fabulous sets and gorgeous costumes that evoke the 19th century opera world in which the story takes place and also the favorite songs that made the show a hit the first time.

“Phantom” takes place in the world of opera and this new production is just as showy and over-the-top as opera itself, making it a visual as well as aural treat. In the familiar story, the Phantom (Chris Mann) is a shadowy figure rumored to haunt a Paris opera house. The disfigured but brilliant Phantom, a frustrated composer, is secretly mentoring a young singer, Christine Daae (Katie Travis ), and is not above sabotage to get his protege on stage. The new owners, Monsieur Firmin (David Benoit) and Monsieur André (Edward Staudenmayer) dismiss the rumors of an “opera ghost” until an “accident” almost injures their sensitive star diva Carlotta (a wonderful Jacquelynne Fontaine). All the cast are on edge as the Phantom issues his instructions to the new owners.

The cast includes Storm Lineberger as Raoul, the handsome young nobleman (and opera financial backer) who falls for Christine, Anne Kanengeiser as the dance mistress Madame Giry, Frank Viveros as the troupe’s lead tenor Ubaldo Piangi and Morgan Cowling as Christine’s friend, the young dancer Meg Giry.

The production makes good use of the three faux operas in the play, using them to poke fun at opera conventions and as opportunities for lavish costumes. The little operas also let Fontaine show off her marvelous voice, the best in the production, even though the operas are done in tongue-in-cheek fashion. Fontaine has the comic chops to make the humor work as well.

The other impressive voice in the show belongs to Chris Mann, its Phantom, making his solo turns all the more thrilling. Mann did an excellent job with the bold dramatics of the role as well, delivering everything the audience could want.

The new production makes some changes. Rather than the usual back story as a frustrated composer who was disfigured in a fire, this Phantom is now a genius from a far off land, gifted not only in music but as a engineer and magician. The new story allows the addition of some wonderful stage magic to the production, one of its highlights.

The opera sets are more elaborate and more ornately Victorian than the original and the big glittering chandelier still looms over the Fox theater audience in its massive glory. But the staircase in the “Masquerade” number at the beginning of the second act has been replaced by fancy “hall of mirrors” set, which works well. A large two-level, rotating set with doors that open and close serves as back stage, Christine’s dressing room, and the managers office. It also serves as the passage down to the Phantom’s hidden lair, with wonderful stairs that appear one by one as the Phantom and Christine descend into his underworld.

The musical is performed with a live orchestra, and tones down some of the driving ’80s beat of some numbers, updating them for current ears. The music is wonderfully done, although some issues with amplification on opening night made it hard to make out some of the lyrics. Not that it mattered; most of the audience knew the words as well as the singers on stage.

All the new staging and beautiful costumes make this new Phantom great fun, updating the classic and giving an entertaining experience for old and new fans alike.

© The Current 2015