It takes 20 semi-trailer trucks to move the touring production of The Phantom of the Opera from city-to-city. It is not hard to see why after taking in the visual spectacle currently playing at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
A massive moving wall transporting actors from opera house to Phantom lair on stairs which magically appear, a pair of two-story rotating opera boxes, a one-ton chandelier perched high above the audience, and pyrotechnics galore. They are just a few examples of what awaits in this reinvented production.
And the costumes. Over 1,200 used each night, including some from the original production some 25 years ago, are as equally as gorgeous.
Is it any wonder it takes a small army of 75 to load the production into the theatre, plus another 35 stagehands to take care of it all at each performance?
Despite all the labour though, it seems someone forgot to unload a truck. The one with all the sound equipment and speakers. For while visually this production is absolutely grand, its sound wasn’t.
Actually, to blame the sound system is not entirely fair. Although it did feel muddy at times, there were also great swaths of Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe’s lyrics which were simply lost inside the 2,765 seat QE Theatre. Not just the fault of the 200 speakers that travel with this enormous show, much of the blame also rests squarely on the shoulders of the cast.
There was an interesting phenomena at play last night which may help explain why audiences are forgiving when it comes to sound.
With Phantom’s longevity comes legions of theatre-goers and fans familiar with the work. Even as many of the lyrics in this production were unintelligible, those familiar with the work simply insert them. The result is as if we are actually hearing all the lyrics, when in reality some of it is playing out in our own memories.
I count myself among them. Having taken in a number of past productions, and sung along to my own well-used original cast recording over the years, the Phantom music and lyrics have become etched in our minds. Giving new meaning to the lyrics “The Phantom of the Opera is there, inside your mind”, it was also evidenced by the woman seated behind us who mistakenly thought this was a sing-along version.
Thankfully everything wasn’t lost to poor diction. When this cast kicked in, they were simply breathtaking.
The most consistent was Derrick Davis as the Phantom. As part of this reinvented production he is meant to come off as more “real”. He succeeds. Never before moved by Christine’s rejection, in making him a much more sympathetic character, Davis finds the necessary emotion to make it heartfelt. He also brings his wonderful singing voice to the Phantom’s signature song, “The Music of the Night”.
As Christine Daaé, Katie Travis doesn’t fare as well. Out-of-the-gate she is a shadow of past productions where the acting was often too big, and unfortunately, many of her songs were among those lost. Thanks to Davis’s more grounded performance though, Travis does settle in many of the scenes with him.
Interestingly, Vancouver is the last stop on the tour for Travis before she is replaced by Eva Tavares who takes over the role as the production moves next to Edmonton. Tavares is from Vancouver, having received some of her training at the UBC Opera Program. It is a shame she had not been able to perform for a hometown audience.
But most of today’s audience comes to The Phantom of the Opera with anticipation of spectacle. From the audience’s reaction last night they got what they wanted, and were far more forgiving of a production which emphasises visuals over sound. It is still a major problem though when you’re a musical, with the word opera in its title.
The Phantom of the Opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe. A Broadway Across Canada presentation of a Cameron Mackintosh production, in association with the Really Useful Group. On stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until July 23. Visit http://broadwayacrosscanada.ca for tickets and information.