Palace Theater, Waterbury: Anyone who saw Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera in the late 1980s might wonder why on earth that great blockbuster musical would need a make-over. After all, it originally took the world by storm, broke records everywhere and won award after award. The answer to that question is now playing at the Palace Theater in Waterbury where it is billed as the “The spectacular new production” and it really is exactly that — spectacular.
The music is still as wonderful as ever with Derrick Davis as The Phantom and Kaitlyn Davis as Christine Daaé. Both stars deliver such superior vocals that audience members cried out “Bravo” and enthusiastically applauded their perfect pitch and melodious solos. While Trista Moldovan’s Carlotta is a powerhouse of a voice, it is Davis’s vocals spiced with a delicate sweetness that become all the more memorable. Jordan Craig as the romantic Raoul also sings with equal amounts of skill and passion. Director Laurence Connor connects all the dots to render this veritable masterpiece along with John Rigby’s spot on musical supervision and Scott Ambler’s exquisite choreography.
The costumes designed by the late Maria Bjornson are still the same and shimmer brightly with jeweled accents that delight the eye in fanciful colors and textures. However, it is the late Paul Brown’s set design that escorts this newly conceived and more realistic rendering into an unforgettable theater experience. Having interviewed Brown days before his passing, I only regret that I cannot compliment him on his ingenious accomplishment.
Yes, there is still a magnificent chandelier that sparkles more brilliantly than any constellation. Yes, there is still the gondola sailing along a foggy underground river. However, this new set features a 10-ton cylinder that rotates, opens and closes, and reveals stunning set after set. It is an incredible engineering feat that turns mechanical into magical. There are pyrotechnics, flames that shoot out of nowhere and candles galore. Video and projected backdrops by Nina Dunn transport audiences from a scene out of “Hannibal,” complete with palm trees and an elephant with blinking eye, to elaborate scenes from a masquerade with masks that reveal more than they conceal and a most triumphant and elaborate “Don Juan.” Thanks to this amazing set, there is constant movement on stage, backstage, in managers’ offices. The big difference in the original and the new production of The Phantom of the Opera is the set. Viva la difference!
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how wonderfully graceful and talented the ballet dancers are in this production. However, so too are the supporting actors including Kristie Dale Sanders as Madame Giry who punctuates her dance classes with a long black cane that beats as steadily as of one’s own heart. So too, the orchestra delivers a flawless performance under the direction of Jamie Johns and includes prime local musicians who enhance the volume and number of traveling professionals who accompany the show.
Overall, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the brand-new spectacular The Phantom of the Opera right here in Waterbury. Be assured that this production is more magical and more memorable than ever before. It plays through Nov. 26. Box office: 203-346-2000.
Joanne Greco Rochman is a founder of the Connecticut Critics Circle and is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected].