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Quentin Oliver Lee and Eva Tavares. (Photos courtesy of Matthew Murphy.)

Originally staged in London in 1986, The Phantom of the Opera is still full of music, effects and imagery that continues to wow audiences in the West End and on Broadway. For the last few years, however, the touring production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical has featured new direction from Laurence Connor and a different set from Paul Brown.

For the most part, the changes are fresh additions, and keeps theatregoers invested throughout the romantic drama at the San Diego Civic Theatre.

Based on Gaston Leroux’s book, the artists at the Paris Opera House are rehearsing for an upcoming historical opera, Hannibal in the late 1800’s. After the prima donna Carlotta Giudicelli (Trista Moldovan) quits when a piece of scenery almost injures her, a young soprano, Christine Daae (Eva Tavares), successfully takes over the role.
Christine’s music teacher has never revealed his face to her. However, following the opening performance, her “Angel of Music” reveals himself to be the disfigured Phantom (Quentin Oliver Lee).

Connor’s direction contains moments of shock, and uses effects ranging from sparks, pyrotechnics, fire and fog, and he cranks these up during some of the more well-known parts of the story. There are instances, however, where he tries a little too hard to bring his own vision to the narrative, such as when he visually depicts a murder in Act One. Showing this takes away the palpable tension that was in the original staging.

Other moments, such as when the Phantom’s backstory is depicted with creepy shadowy projections from Nina Dunn, are a lot more creative and are examples of Connor’s out-of-the-box storytelling.

Paul Brown’s set may not depict too many different locations, but there is a lush and grand quality to seeing richly detailed areas such as the Opera House and the Phantom’s underground secret lair.

Maria Bjornson’s original costumes are retained, and Scott Ambler’s choreography and Paule Constable’s lighting keep to the spirit of Prince’s vision.

While visuals might play a big part in Phantom of the Opera, it is the songs by Webber and lyricist Charles Hart that are a main reason why the tale continues to resonate with theatregoers. Songs such as “I Remember/Stranger Than You Dreamt It” and “The Point of No Return” showcase the unusual relationship between Christine and the Phantom.

Conductor Jamie Johns leads an orchestra that plays musical numbers such as the menacing overture and the bittersweet “Wishing You Were Somewhere Here Again” with the grand sound that an evening such as this demands.

The performers are pleasing to listen to, particularly Tavares whose beautiful singing is always a pleasure to hear. She captures Christine’s almost childlike innocence, and her bravery that develops as the night progresses towards the story’s climax.

Jordan Craig.

It is to Lee ‘s advantage that is he doesn’t try to emulate Michael Crawford’s Tony-Award winning performance, something that can be a temptation for other performers. Although he seemed to be struggling to belt the high note of “The Music of the Night” on opening night, his voice can be both sensitive and intimidating.

An issue that does get in the way of some of the tension are the scenes between Tavares and Jordan Craig as Christine’s love interest, Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny. While they both sing well, they often appear angry or upset at each other, and don’t quite act like a couple who are deeply in love.

If that problem does take away from some of the dramatic moments, the sequences between the Phantom and Christine, coupled with the stagecraft, keep the touring rendition nothing short of entertaining.

Connor’s direction incorporates enough fresh and unique touches, without ignoring the aspects that make The Phantom of the Opera so entertaining and a megahit. Bring your best masquerade mask and as always, watch out for the chandelier.

[box] Show times are tonight at 7:00 p.m, Thursday at 7:30 p.m, Friday at 7:30 p.m, Saturday at 2:00 p.m and 7:30 p.m and Sunday at 1:00 p.m and 6:30 p.m. [/box]

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David Dixon

David Dixon

A fan of theatre from a young age, David Dixon began writing reviews while in middle school, for Union Tribune’s Rated G column and sdcnn.com. He was the Entertainment Editor for SDSU’s The Daily Aztec. Currently, he contributes to San Diego Community News Network, a regional reviewer for Talkin’ Broadway, an interviewer for San Diego Theatre Reviews and has won several San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. David is a San Diego Theatre Critics Circle member, an American Theatre Critics Association member & Regional Theatre Tony Award voter.

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