A thought arose as I was driving up to Waterbury to attend a performance of The Phantom of the Opera at the Palace Theater. To wit: how do you review a show that has been running for almost 30 years? What can you possibly say that hasn’t been said before? Probably nothing. Then there was the fact that this was a road show production – surely corners had been cut, if only because of the needs and necessities of traveling from venue to venue. As I picked up my tickets another doubt arose: I was informed that, due to illness, the actress playing Christine Daae, Eva Tavares, had been replaced. Oh, well…it was Friday and I had nothing better to do. So, with a somewhat jaded attitude I took my seat…and became entranced minutes into the performance. Quite simply, this is a production you do not want to miss. It confirms, in spades, why this musical, ably directed by Laurence Connor, continues to entrance and, at moments, enthrall.
Major doubt: it’s a road show so you’ll see a discount version of the show. Wrong. There’s all the flash, bang and spectacle of the Broadway production, plus some, and given the marvelous acoustics of the venue, no matter where you sit you will be enveloped by the music. Major kudos to Paul Brown for the magnificent set design which, at one moment evokes a painting by Degas and at another, aided by the spot-on lighting by Paaule Constable, creates an eerie, threatening mood reminiscent of Murnau’s film Nosferatu – the first descent into the Phantom’s subterranean lair is visually stunning.
Second doubt: the lead has been replaced, so there will be a second-rate, tentative performance. Silly boy. Kaitlyn Davis as Christine is everything you could ask for. Blessed with a silver-toned voice and impressive emotive skills, she makes what could be a cardboard character into a flesh-and-blood woman fighting for her soul. Equally impressive are Derrick Davis as the tortured Phantom and Jordan Craig as Christine’s love interest, Raoul. In fact, the entire cast is first-rate – no one phones in a performance.
It’s probably almost impossible not to be familiar with many of the songs in the show, even if you’ve never seen a production. This might lead to a certain “tuning in” response – the song is being played on the radio or is a YouTube download you listen to while making a grilled-cheese sandwich. Background noise. Well, as familiar as I am with the score it seemed fresh and new…and vibrant…and the staging of the major set-pieces was more than could be asked for. After intermission, I eagerly awaited the second act’s opening number, “Masquerade,” and my eagerness was amply rewarded, thanks to the enthusiasm and artistry of the cast and Scott Ambler’s choreography. It was, quite simply, a wonderful theatrical moment.
As can probably be deduced, I had no great expectations for the evening. After a wearisome week I was not inclined even to be in the theater. This production – as all great productions should – made me forget my toils and troubles. Outside, after the final curtain, my play-going buddy said: “I could have stayed and watched it for another hour.” I agreed. So, if you are looking for something to do over this extended holiday weekend, if you have children or grandchildren who have never had the opportunity to be enraptured by live theater, consider wending your way to the marvelous Palace Theater for an evening that you will talk about for years to come. Come be embraced by the music of the night.
The Phantom of the Opera runs through November 26. For tickets or more information call 203-346-2000 or go to www.palacetheaterct.org