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‘Phantom of the Opera’ brings new chandelier, laughs to Smith Center

You can’t judge a “Phantom” by its chandelier.

No signature prop will ever surpass the one featured in the “Las Vegas Spectacular” edition of “Phantom,” which closed at The Venetian in 2012, following a six-year run.

Even without the ultimate chandelier, however, there’s plenty of life in the old extravaganza yet, as the current touring production — at The Smith Center through Sunday — ably demonstrates.

Oh, you can still whistle Paul Brown’s impressively shape-shifting set designs if you’ve a mind to, although this “Phantom” deliberately dials down the original’s eye-popping production elements. (Except for the late Maria Bjornson’s original costume designs, which remain as resplendent as ever.)

By trimming “Phantom’s” traditional trappings — just a bit — this production brings things down to a more human scale, allowing us to concentrate on the musical’s melodramatic plot and its trapped-by-circumstance characters.

As for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s richly evocative score, nobody writes music like this anymore — not even Sir Andrew — so the chance to hear such lush melodies, delivered by a persuasive cast, emerges as a palpable pleasure.

Once again, “Phantom” transports us back to late 19th-century Paris, where the Opera Populaire finds itself in dire financial straits — as usual — as its new owners (David Benoit and Edward Juvier, sharing the role with Mark Emerson and Travis Taylor) confront two recurring problems.

The first — tempestuous diva Carlotta Giudicelli (an amusingly preening Trista Moldovan) — may be a distraction, but she’s a hardly a menace.

Unlike the shadowy presence (powerhouse Derrick Davis) who haunts the premises, styling himself the “Opera Ghost” and demanding that fresh-from-the-chorus Christine Daae (yearningly earnest Katie Travis) take over as the opera’s leading lady. Or else.

Soon enough, we discover the Phantom’s true identity: a tragically disfigured, even more tragically shunned outcast who believes that, in Christine, he’s found a voice for the “Music of the Night” pouring from his tortured soul.

In remounting this warhorse, director Laurence Connor has (thank goodness) streamlined “Phantom’s” overstuffed book (by Webber and Richard Stilgoe) and found some welcome comedy relief in what can be throwaway scenes, notably the deliberately ridiculous opera excerpts. (Love that eye-rolling elephant from “Hannibal.”)

To say nothing of the offstage banter among Carlotta and her impresarios, centering on what they’re going to do — or try to do — about that pesky Phantom.

As for the Phantom, he’s the key to — and the heart of — every “Phantom of the Opera.” And in Davis, this production showcases a particularly striking incarnation.

Beyond a resonant singing voice, Davis also brings a powerful physical presence to the role that heightens the Phantom’s deliberate theatricality. Society has cast him in the role of a monster, but he’s in charge of of deciding what kind of monster to play, and how to play him.

Throughout this “Phantom,” Davis finds unexpected notes of subtlety — and poignancy — that haunt the stage, even when he’s not on it.

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

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