‘Phantom of the Opera’ at Smith Center introduces modern look

Updated May 25, 2017 - 10:21 pm

Like its masked title character, “The Phantom of the Opera” has two faces.

You can see the original musical in its seemingly endless Broadway incarnation, which passed 12,000 performances in late 2016. (That’s the one Las Vegas audiences saw during “Phantom — The Vegas Spectacular’s” six-year run at The Venetian, which ended in 2012.)

But, as of Wednesday, there’s a new “Phantom” in town: the touring version, which arrives at The Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall for a 12-day stay.

Created for the show’s 25th anniversary, the production began in 2011 in Britain, then crossed the pond to play the U.S. starting in 2013. And “it’s got a few more years currently booked,” reports Seth Sklar-Heyn, the tour’s associate director.

Sklar-Heyn’s also the production supervisor for “Phantom’s” Broadway version, but his most important title may be executive producer for Cameron Mackintosh Inc. As such, he oversees the British megaproducer’s Broadway output, which includes not only “Phantom” but the “Miss Saigon” revival.

As “Phantom” approached its 25th anniversary, Macintosh decided “to look at the material through a new lens,” with a new creative team interpreting composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony-winning musical version of Gaston Leroux’s turn-of-the-20th-century novel.

Of course, Mackintosh had worked with key members of the creative team previously — notably director Laurence Connor, who also co-directed the 25th-anniversary tour of “Les Miserables” that played The Smith Center in 2013.

Connor’s “Phantom” differs from the striking, stylized one that director Hal Prince brought to Broadway — and Las Vegas.

The touring version takes place in “a much more dimensional and textured space,” Sklar-Heyn notes, following Connor’s concept of “creating a real world on stage.”

It’s one that takes audiences on stage, backstage — and below stage — at the Paris Opera House, where the mysterious title character (portrayed by Derrick Davis) promotes his musical muse Christine Daae (Katie Travis) as a potential prima donna. That is, until the Phantom discovers Christine’s romance with opera patron Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny (Jordan Craig), triggering deadly revenge.

Although the new tour maintains the same script and score, the production reflects the passage of time since “Phantom’s” 1980s debut, according to Sklar-Heyn.

“As a bit of a cynic, people’s attention span has changed,” he observes. “With TV and film culture,” audiences want “immediate, quick-changing visual sensation.”

Besides, theater technology also has changed since the Phantom first haunted the Paris Opera House.

“With the tour, we have integrated some projection design,” Sklar-Heyn notes. (But no video.) While “still being a period piece, it works in more contemporary fashion.”

In that sense, the “Phantom” tour follows a trail blazed by “Les Miz” and “Cats,” two other Mackintosh-produced musical blockbusters.

“ ‘Why do we have to send out things that are less than?’ ” Sklar-Heyn quotes Mackintosh as saying. Instead, the massive “Phantom” tour requires 20 tractor-trailers to transport the show from one venue to the next.

So, for those expecting a lesser experience from this “Phantom” tour, “we failed miserably,” Sklar-Heyn jokes.

Yet for all the changes in the touring show, the essentials remain, from the romantic Beauty-and-the-Beast-style plot to Webber’s musical score.

The latter is “unmatched at creating a dramatic score with melodies that people come out humming,” while at the same time being “a really smart dramatist,“ Sklar-Heyn says. “He connects to the audience in an emotional way.”

Contact Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

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