The Column Online



The Spectacular New Production (North American 2014 Tour)
Music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics Charles Hart
Book & Additional Lyrics Richard Stilgoe

AT&T Performing Arts Center

Creative Team:
Director: Laurence Connor
Choreographer: Scott Ambler
Producers: Cameron Mackintosh, The Really Useful Theatre Company, NETworks Presentations

Scenic Designer: Paul Brown
Costume Designer: Maria Björnson
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable
Sound Designer Mick Potter
Costume Coordinator for the late Maria Björnson: Christine Rowland
Video and Projection Designer: Nina Dunn
Musical Supervisor: John Rigby
Orchestrations: David Cullen
Magic Consultant: Paul Kieve
Wig Creator: Angela Cobbin
Production Manager: Spencer New
Production Stage Manager: Eric Sprosty
Artistic Consultant: Thomas Schonberg

The Company:

The Phantom Of The Opera: Cooper Grodin
Christine Daaé: Julia Udine (August 8-10 and August 19-24)
Christine Daaé: Grace Morgan (August 16 and 17)
Christine Daaé: Celia Hottenstein (August 8-12 and August 12-15)
Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny: Ben Jacoby
Carlotta Giudicelli: Jacquelynne Fontaine
Monsieur Firmin: Brad Oscar
Monsieur André: Edward Staudenmayer (August 6-10 and August 19-24)
Monsieur André: Merritt David Janes (August 12-14)
Monsieur André: Mark Emerson (August 15-17)
Madame Giry: Linda Balgord
Ubaldo Piangi: Frank Viveros
Meg Giry: Hannah Florence
Joseph Buquet: Allan Snyder
Policeman in Pit, Fight: Captain Nick Cartell
Auctioneer: Mark Emerson
Monsieur Reyer: Michael Thomas Holmes
Princess: Celia Hottenstein, Grace Morgan
Hairdresser: Merritt David Janes
Jeweler, Passarino: Edward Juvier
Slave Masters: Dustin Layton, Luke Lazzaro
Monsieur LeFévre, Firechief: Jay Lusteck
Wild Woman: Kathryn McCreary
Wardrobe Mistress: Christy Morton
Madame Firmin, Confidante (Ill Muto): Lindsay O’Neil
Hairdresser (Ill Muto): Merritt David James
Don Arrilio (Ill Muto): Adam Bashian
Porter: Eric Ruiz

Corps de Ballet:
Morgan Cowling, Anjelica Bette Fellini, Ramona Kelley, Abigail Mentzer, Lily Rose Peck, Micki Weiner

Swings: Adam Bashian, Dan Debenport, Amy Decker, Christopher M. Howard, Tara Sweeney, Marguerite Willbanks

Photos by Matthew Murphy

Reviewed Performance: 8/9/2014

Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Critic/Editor/Founder for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

“The world shows no compassion to me.” -The Phantom.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of The Opera (PTO) is one of those musicals that people either admire with great respect or would rather have bamboo sticks shoved up their nails than to sit through it.

I am a faithful, dedicated Phantom fanatic since I first saw it on Broadway. Having seen every Phantom national tour that has come through Dallas, I also saw the tour when I lived in Florida, and even saw it in Boston while I was also touring in a Disney show! That’s how obsessed I am with Phantom! The score is so grand and opulent, with its compositions of elements that I love: big, belting notes and voices that must sustain notes for countless measures of music. The score is composed with majestic orchestrations that bring a wave of violins, cellos and other instruments you don’t hear in most musicals anymore.

Lord, if I have to sit through another “combo” band backing up a musical I’m gonna fling my Diet Coke at the pit. Phantom requires a huge orchestra to truly bring out that bigger- than-life score. I sincerely savor every measure of the music.

Yes, the musical has all those eye-popping, magnificent sets, costumes, special effects, and magic that makes Phantom so special, but it’s the story that always moves me each time I see it; of a disfigured man who God gave the gift of music but who has never known love. His love for Christine is so deep, and yet she rejects him for another.

The birth, creation and journey that Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera traveled on from paper to the stage is one of the greatest backstage stories in theater history, full of ups, downs, egos, and lip-smacking gobs of stories and facts. To learn more about it buy the DVD of the 2004 film version; it has a terrific documentary about the creation of this musical involving the gargoyle composer who lives under the Paris Opera House.

Webber wrote a sequel to Phantom titled Love Never Dies that premiered to mixed reviews in 2010. It too is available on DVD. While the design elements are breathtaking, it just didn’t reach the emotional impact of the original Phantom. There is talk of Webber remounting the production after doing some major rewrites in both book and score.

From 2008-2012 there was talk on the blogs and internet that Webber and original Producer Cameron Mackintosh were discussing the redesigning and mounting of a completely new version of Phantom. When this vision premiered in the UK in 2012 it was a smash, box office hit. Now it has come to America, but even before it arrived they retooled it yet again, including redesigning the chandelier for better effect. Now the Phantom has set up his liar and parked his boat at the Winspear Opera House where it had its opening night on Friday.

Having seen Phantom so many times I was both eagerly excited and nervous as to how this new version would turn out. Would it lose its beauty and emotion from the original? Is it all painted backdrops or scaled down design wise? Well let me say it now, this new version greatly surpasses the original on so many levels, both visually and emotionally, it far exceeds my expectations. In what has to be an astonishing feat, they bring out so much more powerful subtext, emotion, structure, and comedy to the entire piece while only cutting a few orchestrations here and there. I felt like one of the kids in Willie Wonka’s factory when they first see the room made entirely of candy. As a Phantom devotee, I noticed the endless changes in everything, and those changes immensely improve the piece. I devoured every new emotion and layer of subtext that is achieved. Seeing this new version was the first time I wiped tears off my face since I first saw the original Broadway production.

There are only two minor things that I do miss from the original, but I’m just being picky. One is the sight gag of the Elephant in the first opera, Hannibal, BUT they still achieve laughs with the elephant, just in a different way. The other thing I miss seeing (and hearing) is the staging of the Phantom when he enters the Masquerade in Act Two. I just love the underscore that plays as he takes his steps down the staircase. That is gone now. But those are so minor.

Director Laurence Connor and Choreographer Scott Ambler dissect every single musical number, lyric, and measure of music. They peel open the book to discover gripping and very moving emotions not in the original. They don’t cut scenes or drastically alter the book; they just found a bounty of wealth within the material. There are so many scenes and numbers that the Phantom fanatic in me kept whispering, “Wow!” over what they unearthed from the score and book. They tighten up some of the transitions that didn’t seem to gel in the original. There were some scenes in the original that had a tad clunky transition. Connor and Ambler have fixed those.

Now here’s something I did not realize until I got home afterward. Turns out I have seen Connor’s work as a director before. He directed the newly envisioned and revised Les Misérables that came to the Winspear in 2011, and which earned a Tony for Best revival. I raved on and on how much I loved and admired the endless changes he did with Les Miz, which is one of my personal favorite musicals of all time. This explains why I am so enthralled with this new The Phantom of the Opera.

I could write for hours on all the changes both Connor and Ambler have done for PTO! I’ll just give you a tiny sampling here because you will GREATLY regret missing this production if you are a fan of Phantom.

The opening scene is at the auction and the cast is now behind a scrim with massive cobwebs all over it. On stage are various set pieces and costumes from the ghosts of past operas. Above the audience is the infamous chandelier. The monkey music box is now a gold hexagon box that, when opened, looks like flower petals. The monkey rises from within it with lighting underneath him! When the auctioneer tells his crew to turn on the chandelier, the heart pounding orchestrations begin. The drapes covering the chandelier peel away and it looks even grander than the original, with many more crystals. It then explodes sparklers as it rises up! The cobwebs move and swirl on the black scrim, and as the elderly Raoul stands there he is soon surrounded by the cast, swirling around him as they begin the rehearsal for Hannibal. On either side, two massive towers turn to reveal the golden, gilded, box seats of the Paris Opera House. A golden, ornate frame flies in to create the upper part of the proscenium, covered in huge angels with wings. All this happens at the same time, and that’s just the opening kids!

The list goes on and on. Choreographer Scott Amber was a ballet dancer and member of Matthew Bourne’s company. He has completely re-imagined and re-choreographed every number with peerless success. The ballet for Hannibal is breathtaking! It is much more athletic with the slave master and the women. For Christine’s first number, “Think of Me”, Ambler has two ballet dancers frame her beautifully with elegant choreography. For the Phantom’s first aria, “Music of the Night”, gone is the bride mannequin in the mirror. Instead, Connor and Ambler focus on the Phantom and Christine. The staging and blocking now gives the song much deeper subtext on how the Phantom can magically and sensually put Christine under his spell. The mixture of hypnotic, sensual, erotic staging gives the song a strong foundation of what these two will go through in the musical. Their direction and staging has now added much more depth and subtext to one of the most familiar songs in the score.

In Act II, when the Phantom and Christine sing “Point of No Return”, here again Connor reveals a hidden subtext that speaks volumes for both the characters and the song. It now becomes a much more sensual, erotic duet. Midway through, as he clutches Christine, you see her face slowly realize this is not Ubaldo Piangi (the male opera star), but instead the Phantom. It is a subtle but bone-chilling moment to see her facial expressions show us what is going through her mind. This realization now opens the door for a much more dramatic impact when she peels his mask off.

Originally, at the end, Christine returns one last time and gives back the ring the Phantom gave her earlier. She leaves and the Phantom alone sings “Christine I love you.” Connor now stages something that is so raw, organic, honest, and full of emotional impact, it actually moved me to tears. The Phantom is on the floor grabbing his sheets of music flung there earlier by Christine. He clutches one sheet of music, and from the darkness upstage Christine reappears and hears him sing “Christine I love you”. She shows compassion but then quietly removes the ring and puts it on the organ and walks away. So now the Phantom never sees her, but then he sees the ring, and is devastated with the realization of what has happened to his life, his music, and the loss of his only love simply by looking at the ring. She was there and heard him but did not return his love. His facial expressions are devastating to watch. The revised staging and blocking adds layers of subtext completely different from the original, but so, so more powerful. I LOVED this scene.

That’s just an appetizer to wet your palette. There are many more moments, scenes, and musical numbers that have been completely retooled, re-imagined, and restaged with spectacular results. Every number and scene is new in staging and blocking, but more importantly, in subtext. So much richness and bold strokes of emotion have been excavated through Connor’s direction.

The design elements and special effects…OHMIGOD!!!!!! I thought the original Phantom was mouthwateringly exquisite. Well, get ready because you ain’t seen nothing yet! This new The Phantom of the Opera is one of most extravagant, ostentatious, spectacular, elaborate, luxuriant, and lavishly designed shows that I have EVER seen in my life!

Paul Brown happened to be the scenic designer for the same 2011 revival of Les Miz helmed by Connor. If you read my review of that production, I could not stop my pen from writing paragraphs of grand praise to Brown’s work on completely creating a new look for that mega hit musical, now he does it again with PTO.

Today’s new technology greatly aids Paul Brown with his scenic design. Gone is the gilded, “fake” proscenium with the huge angel in the middle. Each scene now has a grander, more elaborate set than the original had. Christine does not go into her own tiny dressing room set after her triumphant debut in Hannibal. Instead, she steps into a bigger dressing room with the rest of the ballet dancers. It opens the scene more now, plus giving the reveal of the Phantom behind the mirror that much more impact.

OMG! What Brown has created for the Phantom’s lair will burst the brain in your cranium, so get prepared! Gone are the traveling candelabras on tracks, as well as the catwalks the Phantom takes Christine down to his lair. Instead, Brown has designed this mammoth, circular set piece that spins, and at the very top you can see what the fly rail/ catwalk would actually look like at the Opera House. A door opens and steps pop out one by one from the set! A much bigger boat appears, and as the Phantom and Christine glide through the “water”, the circular set magically opens up to reveal his lair. The Phantom’s instrument of choice- the organ- is revealed but also a bed with ornate headboard, and hanging above are endless candles. Candelabras are strewn about but guess what? Instead of the usual fake wicks, they have real flames on every single one of them. You could hear many in the audience gasp when all this happened on the stage. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. It is a work of art that Brown creates here. But, oh there is so, so, so much more to come.

You have got to see what he created for the Masquerade scene, I about fell out of my seat when it was revealed! There are also new sets he created for the rooftop scene at the Paris Opera House, the office for the new owners, and the graveyard; all are so grand and beautiful in design.

The video and projection design by Nina Dunn fits in perfect harmony with Brown’s sets. I was very relieved they did not rely entirely on just projections, but instead only adding them at just the right moment in scenes such as the rooftop and graveyard. She also creates great images when the Phantom appears from nowhere. The video/projection sequence she designed as Madame Giry explains to Raoul who the Phantom really is and how he came to be is another piece of video projection eye candy that is eerie and will put goose bumps all over you.

Paul Kieve’s illusions and incredible new special effects are FREAKING AWESOME! I won’t comment on any of them as you need to enjoy the surprises he created on your own. I will say that the Phantom’s final scene will leave you speechless and one of the greatest special effects I have ever witnessed on a stage!!

Paule Constable’s lighting design achieves superlative results. You know how I love to use my own personal term called “emotional lighting”, and Constable has layer after layer of this throughout the musical. Not only does he use a parade of specials and gobos, but so many scenes have such intense, rich, detailed design that it gives the score and acting new layers of emotion. The lighting for the journey down to the lair is out-of-this-world exciting, as is the masquerade scene, another show-stopping moment. The way Constable designed shadows and razor sharp spears of light that pierce throughout the graveyard makes you feel like a cold corpse will pop out at any moment. Scene after scene, the lighting design Constable created for this new world of the Phantom is sublime.

This new production keeps the majority of Maria Björnson’s original costume design. There is some tweaking here and there but all the grandiose, gorgeous costumes are still there. And here’s a fun fact - they went back and discovered drawings, sketches, and costumes Björnson had designed for the original version of Phantom. So as a dedication in her honor (she passed away in 2002), they put some of those never before seen costumes in this new version! See if you can pick them out!

The first thing you will notice about this cast, from ensemble to principal, is that their diction is super crisp, crystal clear and precise. I heard every single word spoken or sung – simply impeccable diction from every single performer.

All dancers in the corps de ballet deserve a standing ovation for executing Ambler’s new athletic choreography with grace and beauty. The male dancers are masculine, muscular, and command the stage. The women are lithe, beautiful and ever so graceful. I giggled with glee in what Ambler created for the ballet in Ill Muto. He changes the men from sheep herders to looking like the mythical god Pan who is half goat! The ballet corp have been placed in musical numbers in which they were not in the original, giving those scenes much more vitality and life. As to the masquerade scene, just sit back and savor the grandiose new choreography Ambler created and see these powerful dancers execute it with marvelous results.

The ensemble all delivers outstanding work. They play a plethora of characters, making the costume changes alone daunting. But what makes the ensemble sparkle and glisten is how completely each actor plays their new character. I noticed it immediately. I have always said ensembles are the backbone of any musical, and this ensemble is first rate. Observe their work in the Hannibal rehearsal, and then see how they transform into new characters for the next scene.

One of the funniest scenes is the opera Ill Muto. The quartet of singers in this number is hilarious in their vocals, facial expressions and comedic timing. Another very funny moment is when Carlotta changes in the middle of “Prima Donna” (another AMAZING change, by the way, in this new version). Two men bring in a decorative, three-sided set piece for Carlotta to change costuming, but when she makes them hold her gown, what these two ensemble actors do with their facial expressions is priceless comedy. In every musical number, be it dramatic or comical, the ensemble sings with full, robust vocals and is always in the moment. Bravo!

For those that are hardcore fans and followers of Broadway, there are some very familiar names within this glittery, other worldly cast that make up The Phantom of the Opera company.

Linda Balgord portrays Madame Giry, the stern ballet mistress at the Opera House who holds the secrets of the Phantom. I saw Ms. Balgord in the 2005 Broadway revival of La Cage Aux Follies, delivering a comedic, side splitting performance as “Mme. Dindon”. She also earned a Drama Desk nod for her work in The Pirate Queen. Balgord delivers a multi-layered, very detailed performance in this new PTO production. She gives a slightly wicked homage to Mamma Rose in her relationship with her daughter Meg. Her compassion and protection for Christine is very vivid and pours from Balgord’s acting craft. When Giry reveals to Raoul the story of the Phantom, Balgord oozes fear and even motherly protection towards the creature.

Thanks to the new scenic design, the role of Joseph Bouquet is given much more emotional impact than in the original version. Allan Synder delivers a great performance as the backstage crew member that cruelly jokes about the Phantom. Past actors tended to play him as only a drunkard. Synder’s interpretation is much more enthralling. He goes for a darker layer of subtext which pays off later in the piece. Plus, wait until you see how he is killed, thanks to the new illusions and special effects, it is a terrifying murder and its Synder’s work that makes the scene pay off. It may be a minor role but he delivers a standout performance you won’t soon forget.

In The Phantom of the Opera, Firmin and André become the new owners of the Opera House. For this tour André is played by Edward Staudenmayer and Firmin by Brad Oscar.

If you saw the dazzling, national tour of Anything Goes starring Rachel York that came to the Winspear two seasons ago, then you saw Staudenmayer slay the audience with laughter in his performance as Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. His creation of Sir Evelyn was one of the funniest performances I have ever seen of that role.

In what I tend to refer to a lot, that stroke of luck happened again when I saw The Producers on Broadway with the entire original cast. We got our tickets way before it opened, before it became THE hottest ticket on the Great White Way. In that cast was Brad Oscar as Franz Liebkind, the German playwright that still adores Hitler. When the show had its tryout run, the original actor playing Franz got injured and Oscar was his understudy. His work was so brilliant the creators gave him the role which earned him a Tony nomination. Oscar’s work in that role had me laughing so hard I know I left my kidney on the floor because it popped out my rib cage. I have to say it was a disgusting and horrible decision not to allow Oscar to reprise his role for the film version. I personally thought Will Ferrell was so miscast, and all the side-splitting humor Oscar brought to the role was sorely missing in Ferrell’s performance.

I give you background on these two because in this Phantom revision they become a scene-stealing, comedy duo every time they step onto the stage. Both have some new dialogue and include ad-libs that really flesh out their characters even more. From their facial expressions to their vocal interpretation, these two comedic stars achieve golden comedic success. They play off each other like two vaudevillian pros, chemistry is one of the key ingredients when it comes to comedy. To make the jokes land, you have to be in total sync with your fellow actors and to your characterization. Staudenmayer and Oscar completely understand the method and use it as comedic arsenal on the audience, and both are hysterical!

Frank Viveros plays Ubaldo Piangi, the male opera star. Viveros gives the role a great dose of grandiose ego and pompous attitude. Like the other comedic roles in the musical, he too brings forth new comedic elements to the role. He is a riot during the Hannibal rehearsal. His battle with the choral master/director over his pronunciation is hilarious. But make sure to watch what he does at the end, because it is all comedic gold! He achieves another round of solid laughs with his issue with the music in the rehearsal scene in Act II. Viveros layers his characterization as a devoted, ego driven partner to Carlotta with snooty facial expressions that fit like a comedic glove over his acting craft on stage.

Jacquelynne Fontaine is the most physically gorgeous Carlotta I have seen. She is a statuesque beauty who gives Carlotta an ego of epic proportions. It is evident that Director Connor has expanded the role much more than the original, which makes her character much more exciting. It allows Fontaine to really embellish on the role. With a perfect Italian accent, she is a comedic tornado, matching her male co-stars in every scene. Fontaine delivers side-splitting laughs scene after scene. She isn’t over the top or goes for exaggerated hysterics, but instead more of a rigid, wicked diva with ice in her veins. Fontaine has a flawless, grand, operatic soprano voice. While going for the laughs in her arias, she still sings with such a beautiful voice, her high notes soaring in the air for endless measures. But when it comes to the comedy, she devours those scenes with hilarious results. She becomes the scene stealer of the production.

Raoul is the romantic lead that rekindles with childhood playmate Christine. In past productions I’ve seen some actors in this role dissolve into the scenery because there is simply no substance. For this tour that is not the case with Ben Jacoby’s splendid and chivalric performance. A masculine actor with very handsome features, Jacoby steers clear from the path of turning the role into a one note performance. His chemistry with Christine is very sensual and honest. Sometimes in past productions, their love scenes came off a bit mawkish and paint by number. Not here. Jacoby gives Raoul a solid backbone and authority. His subtext of having to battle for Christine’s affections with a ghost comes from his sharp acting tools. When he sings, out pours this palatial, imposing, baritone voice. His rendition of “All I Ask of You” is one of the finest vocal interpretations of that song I have ever heard. From his spotless diction to the crescendos of his solos, Jacoby commands the stage. His is a captivating, original, fresh new approach to the role thanks to his out-of-this-world talents.

There are three ladies who will divide the role of Christine while Phantom plays here in Dallas. On press night it was Julia Udine who portrayed the beauty that calmed the beast of the Paris Opera House. For past productions of Phantom, I’ve seen some sopranos sail without any vocal issues whatsoever, and others who either cracked or couldn’t reach those impossibly high notes composed within Christine’s music. Ms. Udine has no problems whatsoever. She has a jaw-dropping soprano voice that glides up and down all those scales with ease and finesse. Remember that Webber wrote this role for his then wife, Sarah Brightman, who has a one of kind operatic soprano voice so few women possess. That is why this role is so daunting vocally. In her first aria from Hannibal, “Think of Me”, there is a section at the very end where Christine has to climb and climb up a mountain of vocal scales no mere mortal can reach. Udine does so with flawless results. No break whatsoever within those notes. But when she reaches the top and hits that final note with vocal power and massive belt, it is Udine’s musical craftsmanship and technique that makes the song a show stopper. Both here and later on when she sings the title song with the Phantom, Udine has to go all over the vocal map with runs and trills at full soprano, plus not allowing the vibrato to fall off its rail. That is a very difficult task, and therefore no secret that in the original those two big high notes were tracked. Not here though. You might not be able to tell from seating in the higher levels of the theater, but Udine actually take in gulps of air to prepare her voice to hit the stratosphere in those two songs. And she just nails them with phenomenal vocal success.

Udine’s acting craft and choices match her voice. She really takes the time to allow Christine to reflect and “sit” in the moment when her character hits a vital arc. Udine lets the subtext melt into her body, using facial expressions to show a woman torn emotionally between Raoul and the Phantom. Her chemistry with both men is sensual, honest, and actually quite hot! There is the romantic, swooning chemistry with Raoul, but then dark, forbidding, erotic lustful chemistry with the Phantom. I’ve never seen that come from any actress portraying Christine. My personal favorite aria of hers is “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”. From the second those violins and cellos play as Christine walks into the cemetery, I just love that entire number. Udine’s vocal and acting interpretation of this song is resplendent beauty. Between the organic, honest subtext of losing her father and her current, complex love for two men, Udine pours her heart out and it shows. But her soprano deliverance of that song, it’s like a cascade of sparkling, vocal jewels pouring out into the audience. She delivers one of the greatest performances I have seen of Christine.

Jean Valjean in Les Misérables and the Phantom has to be two of the most demanding roles ever created for a musical theater actor. Not only do they carry the show but also sing songs going all over the scales and use every acting tool in their pocket to create a complex character with heaps of varied subtext. I’ve seen actors either succeed or fail in both of those roles.

For this Phantom, it is Cooper Grodin who wears the mask. Grodin is an actor who is quite tall, and even with the grotesque make up you can still see he is a very dashing, handsome actor; talk about major eye candy, this man has movie star good looks. He has an aura of animalist sexiness, giving the Phantom so many new and exciting layers of subtext. Grodin has a dynamic, bigger than life stage presence. Just like Christine, it is very easy to fall under his hypnotic spell.

The Makeup design team and Director Connor have wisely joined together to revise the Phantom’s horrific face. Remember, we see (kinda of) his scarred face in Act I in his lair when Christine pulls the mask off. The makeup has now changed to show more of his real face. Connor restages the scene, and because of the new blocking, we see more of Grodin’s handsome facial features during the song, making the audience see what Christine sees and why she falls for him. But then he turns and the horror is there before our eyes. Just a thrilling scene thanks to Connor’s staging and Grodin’s work.

The subtext and arc the role The Phantom requires is extremely complex and so hard to achieve. He is a villain, a murderer, a man child with a disfigured face, an outcast, and a man who loves, but who is not loved in return. It is very easy to fall into the chalk outline some actors who have played him fall into. As stated before, I’ve seen at least twenty productions of The Phantom of the Opera. Out of all those productions, only four actors fully succeeded in the role. The best I’ve seen portray the role of the Phantom have been Ron Bohmer, John Cudia, Davis Gaines, and the late Kevin Gray (who sadly passed away last year). You can add Cooper Grodin to that short list.

Vocally, he delivers one of the most incredible, compelling, transcendent, and magnanimous performances I have ever seen or heard from an actor who has taken on the role of the Phantom. His diction is pristine and flawless. His falsetto floats like a feather in a breeze. His muscular singing voice can belt with such mighty force I know the ball on top of the Reunion Tower shook a little! And when it comes to sustaining notes, you have got to wonder if Grodin has an oxygen tank strapped to his back because no singer can hold notes like that. But Grodin does, over and over all throughout the performance.

The Phantom’s first aria is one of the most familiar songs ever composed for a musical, ”Music of the Night”. Talk about a mutha of a beast to sing through. You have to glide with not a single break into a falsetto and hold it forever. Then you have to belt like a roaring lion with full out gusto - don’t even think of relying on the body mic. After all that, you have to end the song by sustaining, for god knows how many measures of music, this incredibly high tenor note while the orchestra creeps up the scales. Right in the middle of this transgression the orchestra does a discord, but the singer must stay in the original key for effect to show the Phantom’s inner battle.

Grodin creates the best solo of the entire night with this song. His falsetto is so alive and wavers into the audience like yards of silk engulfing them. When he has to belt the big note with full vocal strength, it is dynamic and robust. And on the final note, he did something that NO other actor has done. He sustains the note PAST the orchestra cut off! I was floored. I’ve seen Phantoms not make it to the end, or those who cut off right with the orchestra (which is the correct way to do the song justice). Grodin holds it past and sustains it as the spotlight on him slowly fades out. Wow. I mean WOW. And that’s just his first song. Every song Grodin sings is like winning the lottery. He keeps hitting vocal success with every song.

As to his acting craft, thanks to Connor’s vision and work, Grodin fleshes so much more out of the role with the aid of not only the blocking and staging but with the new scenic design. All this helps him achieve an astonishing, stupefying, extraordinary performance. He interprets so much new subtext, resulting in one of the most unique and emotionally devastating creations of the Phantom I have ever seen. His love for Christine is both erotic and frightening, almost like a stalker, yet he has you under his spell. It’s a very thin line to make the Phantom a hammy villain with over-the-top, been there-done that darkness. Grodin detours completely away from this, presenting himself as a respectful yet forceful teacher to his protégé. By showing his honest, raw love for Christine with gut punching realism, Grodin gives the Phantom heartbreaking compassion and truth. His final scene will leave you in tears. Grodin delivers one of those rare, once in a lifetime performances that will stay with you for years to come.

Regardless if you have seen Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera before or never have, you have never seen it done like this. EVER! The production team is greatly respectful of Webber’s score yet brings out even more emotional impact and subtext without destroying or insulting the original version. Incorporate the new additional design elements and you have a production that will blow you away.

Theatergoers have a unique situation in Dallas presently. Both The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables were the forefathers of the British invasion to hit Broadway in the 1980s. Both became monster hits on The Great White Way. Phantom is still playing on Broadway. Les Miz has had two revivals.

Across the street from the Winspear Opera House, Dallas Theater Center is currently presenting a “bold, new” version of Les Misérables. This production has had vast and divided response from both critics and audiences. Some loved it, some hated it. I thought it was a confusing, muddled, blundering mess, giving it a very harsh and negative review.

Now we have a “bold, new” version of The Phantom of the Opera and the outcome is totally different. Here, there is great homage and respect to not only the composer, the original director, and choreographer but also to the original design team. The end result is a VASTLY and greatly improved version of Phantom, both in emotion and design. The subtext and realism of the piece is remarkable from start to finish. The changes work like sparkling magic. This is the BEST production of Phantom I have EVER seen. It is funny to think that Director Lawrence Connor helmed my personal favorite version of Les Misérables with his new approach to the piece in the 2011 national tour, which stopped at the Winspear. Now he has done it again with his new vision of The Phantom of the Opera. If you want to truly see what “bold and new” looks like, run now to get tickets to Phantom. This production is of a quality you will never see again, especially with the talents of this tour de force cast and production.

AT&T Performing Arts Center Broadway Series
Dallas Arts District, Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201

Runs through August 24th

Tuesday – Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sunday at 7:30 pm, and Saturday – Sunday at 2:00 pm. Tickets range from $30.00 - $200.00 according to day of week and seating choice.

For information and to purchase tickets, go to or call the AT&T Performing Arts Center box office at 214-660-0202. You can also pick up tickets at the box office, open Sunday-Monday from 10am – 6 pm; Tuesday-Saturday 10am – 9 pm. Go online to read about group sales and student rush tickets.