The Phantom of the Opera is one of theatre’s most well-known musicals, with a tremendous amount of history. So many talented individuals have mounted numerous productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s biggest hit. Yet the current North American tour, led by superlative performances by The Voice finalist Chris Mann and Katie Travis, is the best Phantom since Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman defined the lead roles in the 1980’s.
It’s a majestic production in many ways, from the intricate set that rotates and near seamlessly changes from one location to the next, to the spot-on special effects like that famous crashing chandelier – several audience members in attendance at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre on Thursday evening jumped at the iconic moment – or even the beautiful costumes for one of the largest productions of this famous musical. Audiences expect the biggest of everything when they come to see Phantom, and the US tour is certainly big.
But what’s made the musical successful and so universally beloved has been the music and the performances from its principal cast. The current touring ensemble is memorable across the board, from Anne Kanengeiser as ballet director Madame Giry through to a loveable Frank Viveros in the role of the Opera Populaire’s principal tenor Ubaldo Piangi. No matter the size of the role, each cast member brings something unique to the stage.
At its heart, however, Phantom is always thought of for the triangle between its three main characters – The Phantom, Christine Daae, and Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny. Crawford and Brightman didn’t just originate the roles of The Phantom and Christine in the original West End production; they remain the definitive incarnations, because they possessed both incredible vocal talent and the acting ability to truly convey the emotional journey for each of their characters. They were larger than life, and so naturally those who have come since are often compared to them.
Mann and Travis are reminiscent of Crawford and Brightman, with that same winning combination. Their vocal performances, together and apart, are jaw-dropping; they are two of the purest singers you’ll ever hear on a stage. They have that same star quality in spades; Mann delivers plenty of the necessary menace required to portray The Phantom and yet remains charming and utterly heartbreaking when called for, while Travis is so genuine that you understand why The Phantom adores Christine to the point of obsession. It’s been a very long time since we’ve had a Phantom and Christine as powerful as this.
But that’s only really half of the equation. Where Mann, Travis and Storm Lineberger become truly great is in their capacity to humanize these often difficult characters. All of them have moments where we feel for them and moments where they infuriate us, and this dynamic trio plays both sides wonderfully. It’s as captivating to watch them act as it is to hear them sing, and when the production builds to its climax the amount of emotion they’re able to draw out will leave you with chills. The excellent performances bring the story of Phantom to life in a beautiful and moving way, reminding us that the text has as much to give as the songs.
Mann and Travis could easily become two of the next great theatre stars; they have everything you could ever ask of a stage performer – vocal talent, acting talent, and the charisma to mesmerize an audience – at remarkable levels. More than that, their passion for the production shines through. It’s clear that they love telling this tale, and audiences will fall in love with them. If you’ve never seen Phantom before or if you’ve seen it a thousand times, you’ve never seen it like this.
Don’t miss your opportunity to see this fantastic touring production while its current cast is still on stage. The Phantom of the Opera continues touring in California through October; for tickets and to see the complete North American tour schedule, visit the production’s website.