The Phantom of the Opera – National Tour

 Music by Andrew Lloyd Webberpalace theatre, chicago

Lyrics by Charles Hart

Book by Richard Stilgoe & Andrew Lloyd Webber

Directed by Laurence Connor

Music Direction by Richard Carsey

Choreography by Scott Ambler

 Stunning new staging and an impressive multilevel set plus new young voices give this spirited National tour of the Phantom of the Opera a sweeping panorama.

It is refreshing to see that a young generation of players have embraced this show as evidence to the respect shown by this youthful cast.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 1 - Cooper Grodin and Julia Udine - photo by Matthew Murphy-5135

When a show has been touring around the world for decades it has a tendency to get shopworn. But produced Cameron Mackintosh makes sure that he keeps  Phantom fresh with new young voices and here he has invested in an impressive large set that adds a heighten degree of emotion to the fabled highly operatic and totally romantic operetta. This current Phantom, now playing at the Palace Theatre in Chicago sure does justice to the material.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA  - The Company performs Hannibal 1192 - photo by Matthew Murphy - Copy

 The Phantom of the Opera overwhelmed me once again with its stagecraft, its melodic score and its wonderful singing. I enjoyed this production I wasn’t alone; the opening night audience gave it a roaring standing ovation that was amazing since it was playing Chicago for the seventh time! Worldwide, over 130 million people have see Phantom of the Opera in the more than 90,000 performances; there are currently 6 productions running worldwide.

 With worldwide box office sales of over $5.6 billion (the highest in history) Phantom is the most successful venture of the 20th Century, surpassing such blockbuster films as Titanic, E. T. and Star Wars.  Now 26 years old on Broadway, winner of seven Tony Awards (including Best Musical), Phantom is the longest-running show ever  on Broadway passing Cats record of 7,486 performances on January 9, 2006- Phantom has played to over 10,800 and counting!

palace theatre, chicago

 I believe Phantom survives because of a combination of a hauntingly beautiful score sung well by the entire cast encased in fantastic sets, costumes, lights, sounds, falling chandeliers and pyrotechnics presented in a breathtakingly illuminating showcase. Quality control by producer Cameron Mackintosh demands that each production live up to the highest standard thus assuring audiences that of worthy entertainment. Phantom has all the extravagant trappings necessary for the spectacle that makes The Phantom of the Opera the phenomena it has become.

 At $115 for the main floor seats, Phantom is a bargain for what is presented.   There are 52 Equity cast and orchestra members, 97 crew members, 22 scene changes, 230 costumes, 22 scene changes, a 10-foot chandelier, 479 lighting instruments, a radio-controlled boat, 2700 feet of curtain draperies and computer controlled fog with Baroque proscenium frames that catapults us into the 1880’s Paris Opera House. Similar to Lion King, Phantom combines spectacle with a powerful operatic score and outstanding performers to produce a fantastic night of entertainment.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 7A - Julia Udine and Ben Jacoby 925 - photo by Matthew Murphy - Copy

 Everybody probably knows this by now, but just for the record: Phantom is more opera than conventional musical, with very little spoken dialog. The book, by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber, combines the major story line of the disfigured Phantom’s doomed and destructive love for the soprano Christine with some satirical jabs at the foibles of opera and theatre in general. Charles Hart and Stilgoe are credited with the lyrics, which, like both the book and Leroux’s novel, are serviceable without resembling High Art in any way. And, of course, production designer Maria Bjornson provides eye-popping costumes, sets, and stage magic. It’s quite literally the icing on the cake – tasty, but not necessary. But the new set design by Paul Brown  is an eye-poping large scale that does justice to a show about an opera house in the mid 19th Century Paris.

That’s because Lloyd Webbers music is ultimately what makes Phantom work so well and what brings audiences back in droves. This lyrical, dramatic, and intelligent score is, in many ways, one of Webber’s best. He manages to both make fun of and pay homage to 18th and 19th-century opera conventions while still producing popular songs such as “Music of the Night” and “All I Ask of You’ and “Wishing you Were Somehow Here Again.” THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 7D2 - Craig Bennett and Edward Staudenmayer - photo by Alastair Muir

Cooper Grodin, as the Phantom, emphasizes the mad and melodramatic side of the Phantom without stepping over the line into parody as he sang terrific, hitting all the tenor ranges demanded in the score. Julia Udine, as Christine, just stepped into the role here in Chicago. She was entrancing and sensual and sounded terrific. Udines clear perfect soprano was a joy to hear.. her acting was truthful and precise. Chicagoan Ben Jacoby, as Raoul, possesses charm and his ringing baritone  sounded heavenly.

The large ensemble delivered “Masquerade” in such a grandiose manner highlighting the opulence of 19th Century Paris. I was struck by the wall-to-wall outstanding voices singing worthy of an opera company. The Phantom of the Opera is an entertaining and well-crafted diversion. It doesn’t raise any important issues and there’s no subtext – what you see is what you get – but it does have the same mix of humor and melodrama that characterized Leroux’s original novel.

Amazingly, Phantom still holds up as fine entertainment. Put your mind on hold, suspend disbelief, and enjoy this big bon-bon of a show.  You’ll leave the Palace humming the tunes, which is a sign that the show hit its mark. This is how all touring shows should be – Equity talent with all the necessary stage craft.

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: January 15, 2014

For more info checkout The Phantom of the Opera  page at

At the Palace Theatre,151 W. Randolph, Chicago, call 800-775-2000,, tickets $23 – $115, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 2 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm. Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm with some Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm. running time is 2 hours, 50 minutes with intermission, through March 2, 2014


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