Under normal circumstances, sitting underneath a Boston Opera House chandelier draped in a cloth labeled “Lot 666’’ would be enough to make me ask for a different seat, but I glued myself to that perilous spot at the opening of “The Phantom of the Opera’’ Friday night — and I’m so glad I did.
Cameron Mackintosh’s production of “The Phantom of the Opera’’ proved to be a show rife with spectacular special effects, a remarkable set, and perhaps most important of all, powerful, captivating voices which did justice to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s timeless musical.
The Boston stop of the U.S. tour stars Julia Udine (Christine Daaé), Cooper Grodin (The Phantom of the Opera), and Ben Jacoby (Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny), a powerhouse trio whose chemistry was palpable from 21 rows away. Each of the performer’s voices was magical enough to stand out on its own, but the numbers where they overlapped were riveting. “The Phantom’s Lair’’ brought tears to my eyes.
Udine, Grodin, and Jacoby were accompanied by a cast which brought Gaston Leroux’s story (he wrote the book on which the play is based in 1910) to life.
Centered on a scarred, masked man living in the depths of the Paris Opera House in the late 1800s. “The Phantom of the Opera,’’ chronicles the Phantom’s life as he teaches a ballerina named Christine to sing flawless operatic numbers in a quest to bring her great fame, only to have her swept away by the debonair Vicomte. He works tirelessly to win her back (and by tirelessly, I mean he threatens to bring great harm to the opera house and its patrons).
Leroux’s novel is loosely based on the tale of Le Palais Garnier, a Parisian opera house which was rumored to have been built on a fish-filled lake in the late 19th century. Opening night wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without the production’s Paul Brown-designed set, which transformed the Boston Opera House into a multifaceted take on early 20th century Paris.
Using rolling fog and a series of perfectly positioned lights, Brown transformed the stage into the lake, making it easy to forget you were watching a gondola traversing a stage, navigating its way to the Phantom’s lair.
The set also included a vast rotating semi-circular structure (it must have stood 20 feet tall) which served multiple purposes, including the backdrop for the steps to the lake (which emerged one at a time as they were needed), the fictional opera house’s rafters, the office of Monsieurs Firmin and André, and the ballerinas’ dressing room.
Outside of an error where a staged noose came loose, the technical side of the production was flawless – which I am personally grateful for, because that “Lot 666’’ chandelier was dropped from the ceiling before intermission, stopping just feet above my head.
As it came falling at rapid speed, the chandelier was accompanied by the famed organ of the Phantom, thanks to the orchestra which was under the direction of Richard Carsey and associate music director Jamie Johns. The pit included several local musicians and after playing a 19-scene performance, the orchestra earned an extended round of applause after the final curtain.
From the opening number in the ghostly halls of the Paris Opera House, to the final moments of the Phantom’s tale, Cameron Mackintosh’s production of “The Phantom of the Opera’’ made it easy to see why Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical is still drawing a packed house almost 30 years after it was written.