Phantom: Cooper Grodin.
Christine: Celia Hottenstein.
Raoul: Ben Jacoby.
Andre: Edward Staudenmayer.
Firmin: Craig Bennett.
Carlotta: Amy Justman (understudy).
Madame Giry: Christy Morton (understudy).
Meg: Hannah Florence.
Piangi: Edward Juvier (understudy).
This was the 11th time I've seen the show. Each time I've seen it, before now, it was during the previous U.S. Tour (specifically, The Music Box Company). I first saw the show in 1995, when I was 14, and had last seen the show in 2010, shortly before the previous U.S. Tour ended. So, when I draw comparisons in this review, I will be comparing the new U.S. Tour staging to the previous U.S. Tour staging.
On March 11, 2014, 7:30 p.m., at The Ohio Theatre in Columbus, I saw the new U.S Tour of The Phantom of the Opera, complete with the new staging, direction, etc. I sat alone, but I didn't mind, because I was in the 4th row, downstairs, not too far from the center. In fact, I actually prefer sitting alone, because buying a single seat for a show always means a better seat, due to the fact that there are always random single seats scattered throughout the theater, because most people buy their tickets in pairs or more.
My mom bought my ticket for me, as a birthday present. March 11 was my 33rd birthday, and I can't think of a better way to have spent the evening of such an occasion! My sister and my nephews also attended, although they unfortunately had to sit in the upper balcony. My mom bought their tickets, too. But after having bought my birthday ticket, she could only afford to buy “nosebleed” seats for them, since that meant 3 more tickets. My nephews are ages 9 and 7, and my sister informed me that they were very well-behaved and attentive for their first professional theatre experience. They loved it! I am so happy to have such cultured and intelligent nephews!
Now, for my scene-by-scene thoughts:
“Prologue:” The general set up of the stage wasn't too different, although the chandelier was not on the stage; it was already hanging above the first few rows of the auditorium, with a dust cloth over it. And the auctioneer was stage-level. Raoul is no longer in a wheelchair, and he is not as old as in previous productions. I would say he looks to be in his early 50s now. According to the playbill, the Prologue takes place in 1911, and the rest of the show takes place in “late 19th Century.” The music box, while still including a cymbal-playing monkey, is now enclosed in a wooden pyramid-esque case, which opens to display the actual monkey.
“Overture:” As I said, the chandelier was already above the auditorium. So, during the Overture, the dust cloth came off, and it flashed pretty lights. It was not nearly as dramatic as in previous productions. On stage, the auction set was quickly cleared, and the Hannibal backdrops, etc. gradually dropped down. One thing I especially liked was that a few of the ballet dancers showed up dancing in their Hannibal constumes, before the auction set was completely cleared from the stage. I really enjoyed the gradual blending of of the 1911 era with the flashback to the rest of the show; I found it very effective.
“Rehearsal of Hannibal” and “Think of Me:” The backdrops were different, more tropical. And Piangi does not ride out on an elephant anymore, although a large 2-D wooden elephant does appear and pantomimes elephant noises. I was unable to figure out who Christine and Meg were, for most of the Rehearsal scene. Piangi was funny, not just struggling with “Roma,” but eventually struggling with “homa,” after mastering “Rome.” Reyer was definitely annoyed with the new managers. Instead of a backdrop falling and scaring Carlotta, a sandbag fell. And, rather than being over-the-top, like many Carlottas I've seen, she seemed quite collected and calm in her complaints before storming off the stage.
When Christine started “Think of Me,” she was very nervous, as usual. Looking at Madame Giry seemed to give her some courage, and she began to sing more confidently. The transition from Rehearsal to actual Hannibal performance was similar to previous stagings, although ballet dancers brought Christine the scarf in the middle of the song. At one point, scarf became stuck on the breast portion of Christine's costume, oops! But Celia Hottenstein was able to correct it without drawing too much attention to it. Ben Jacoby as Raoul was incredibly handsome, with a perfect musical theatre voice for his character. As for Celia's voice, it was very pretty, but not as operatic as many Christine's I've seen before. Her facial expressions in the vocalizing at the end of the song seemed a bit silly, though, in my opinion.
“Angel of Music,” “Little Lotte,” and “The Mirror:” The Phantom now sings “Brava, brava, bravissima,” instead of “Bravi,” etc. It sounded strange to me, but I did some research, and apparently “brava” is actually the accurate term, because it implies speaking to a female. Meg reminded me of a petulant teen, but I don't mean this as an insult at all. I really liked the spark that Hannah Florence gave to her character. I liked how she pouted when Madame Giry ordered her to go practice, etc. Often, I've felt that Meg comes across more as a prop to move the story forward, rather than her own character with her own motivations. However, this Meg had her own personality, and was more than just someone to help the story to progress. Most importantly, though, Christine no longer has her own dressing room. She shares a dressing room with the other girls of the ballet chorus. Logically, this makes much more sense, I suppose (indeed, much of this new staging seems to focus on what would have been more realistic, as we shall see). But it does also raise the question of how The Phantom would have had enough time with Christine alone in that room, in order to teach her to sing.
When Christine received the letter from Raoul, she seemed to recognize the words, and was quite happy. Like a young girl with a crush, I'd say. However, when Raoul stormed into her room, she seemed confused by his words, which didn't really mesh with her reaction to the letter. Of course, when he stormed in, she was in the process of tying her robe, and she had to move to frantically cover herself. They truly seemed to be reminiscing over their childhoods, and I could really envision the scenes of which they spoke. Raoul seemed quite pleased to have encountered Christine again, and did not understand that she was speaking literally when she told him “the Angel of Music is very strict.”
I felt the old, familiar jolt in my stomach when The Phantom sang “Insolent boy!” Cooper Grodin's voice was very powerful, although not always entirely classical. He seemed to be a tenor, though; this pleased me, because I prefer tenor Phantom's. Christine seemed very childlike and naïve, even by Christine standards. When The Phantom sang “see why in shadow I hide,” he had an odd tone of voice on “hide,” which I did not like. The Phantom appeared in the mirror, as usual, but instead of turning away as in previous productions, Christine faced the mirror the whole time. I liked this, because I've always thought it didn't make sense for Christine to turn away from the mirror once her Angel had appeared in it. When the mirror opened, it swung outwards, rather than sliding open. When Raoul stormed back into the room, he seemed very confused, and kept calling for “Christine,” and did not call “Angel,” as in previous productions. He seemed quite miffed to find the rose he had brought Christine on the floor.
“The Phantom of the Opera” title song: Let me get this out of the way immediately: My favorite thing about the new staging is the stairs in this scene. There is an omninous-looking wall, and each step comes out one-by-one, just before the characters get to each step. And, shortly after they used each step, each would recede back into the wall. I much prefer this to the previous ramp they used. Dodgy steps down into the lair not only seemed more realistic, but also scarier. And, at the same time, they seemed more magical, due to their emerging and receding nature. Christine seemed more focused on the steps than on The Phantom. Again, this is probably more realistic, but I would have liked her to focus on The Phantom more. The Phantom seemed focused on getting her down the stairs, more matter-of-fact than hypnotic. I thought I could see safety ropes attaching the actors to the wall, but once they got past a certain point, the ropes no longer seemed attached to them. I don't know if they really were safety ropes, which let go after a certain point, or if the ropes were simply set pieces which accidentally caught on their costumes.
The boat was mostly the same as before, although there were less candles around in the lake. However, once they got to the lair, the boat drifted off-stage. The boat does not double as a bed in this production; The Phantom's lair has a bed of its own. Honestly, I was not a fan of the new set in the lair. The bed and organ were okay (the organ is on the other side of the stage now), but there are less candles (instead, there are lights which hang from the ceiling, along with a few candles around the stage), there is no portcullis, no throne, and no mirror bride. The lair, as with many aspects of this production, looked more realistic, and less mysterious and magical.
Christine seemed utterly exhausted by the end of her vocalizations at the end of the song; she was out of breath, and I think she actually fell against the bed. The Phantom's commands have changed slightly. He still says: “Sing, my Angel of Music!” and “Sing for me!” but instead of the random “Sing!” moments, he says things like: “Breathe!” and “Again!” I was very thrown-off by this, but in retrospect, I find it quite effective. If their previous singing lessons had been this intense, it's no wonder Christine was so easily mesmerized by the mysterious Angel who had been teaching her to sing! Indeed, keeping this in mind makes it more believable that Christine felt drawn to The Phantom throughout the show. Otherwise, what was actually portrayed onstage throughout the show would not explain why Christine felt drawn to The Phantom.
“The Music of the Night:” Unfortunately, I had a lot of trouble being drawn into this scene, whereas before, I was always very drawn in here. For the most part, Christine stood alone; The Phantom did not physically interact with her as much as before. In fact, it seemed as if he was trying to avoid physical contact with her. I'm wondering if this is something new in the direction, that The Phantom is now being portrayed as having difficulty with physical contact. It's certainly an intriguing way to portray the character, but it's less enjoyable to watch onstage. Also, much of the Phantom's body language during this song came across as rather awkward and shy, rather than mysterious and seductive. Again, I do think that's a potentially valid interpretation of the character, but it's not as effective as viewed from the audience. I guess I'd rather read this interpretation in a book or fanfiction, rather than see it onstage. I really missed the seductive aspects of this song.
However, for a verse or so, The Phantom actually tied a blindfold on Christine. Honestly, I really am not clear about the meaning behind this. While wearing the blindfold, Christine wandered a bit around the stage, occasionally directed by The Phantom. So, perhaps, the blindfold was meant to be a way for The Phantom to persuade Christine to trust him and the darkness? It really just came across as awkward and confusing, though, in my opinion.
As I mentioned before, there was no mirror bride in this staging. So, near the final verse, Christine collapsed to the stage, apparently overwhelmed. And when The Phantom sang “touch me, trust me,” it was so Christine would take his hand and stand back up. And that was where I missed the previous staging most of all. I have always loved when The Phantom would hold Christine, sway her back and forth, and that moment when she'd touch his mask. But that was missing here. I didn't really mind Christine not fainting, though. Instead, The Phantom picked her up near the end of the song (Cooper Grodin must be a strong guy, because he was still singing throughout!), and carried her to the bed. It was sweet, seeing him lay her down and cover her up. She turned on her side, and peacefully went to sleep. It was quaint, but I didn't mind it, because it reminded me a bit of the equivalent scene in the novel PHANTOM by Susan Kay.
The Phantom sang the final lines of the song to his sheet music. I wish he would have sang them to Christine, as in previous stagings. The odd thing is, many professional newspaper reviews I've read say that The Phantom is more focused on Christine, and less focused on music, in this staging. I didn't really find that to be the case, especially in this scene.
“I Remember,” “Stranger Than You Dreamt It,” and “Magical Lasso:” The first thing of note here: The Phantom does not stay at the organ. He plays the first bit of music, and then walks away from the organ. Then, shockingly, he removes his own mask, and leaves it to the side. He then picks up some kind of cloth, and seemingly starts washing his face. Fair enough; realism seems to reign in this production, after all. But I am utterly shocked that the new director did away with the actual iconic unmasking! This is also a good place to mention that The Phantom's “hair” is different in this production. Instead of being slicked back, it is rather wavy. Until the second act, I actually assumed that The Phantom would not have alopecia in this production, and that he had wavy hair instead (as it turns out, he does have alopecia, and the new wavy hair is a wig he wears; but I did not discover this until Act 2).
When Christine woke up, the music box failed a bit. The wooden pyramid around it did not open, but the music still played. Christine got out of bed, walked over to the already-unmasked Phantom, and spun him around by his arm. When she saw his face, she reacted as in previous productions. But, again, she did not actually unmask him, because he himself had already removed his own mask! Also, The Phantom did not crawl/slither over to her. He walked toward her, while conveying the appropriate emotions. Once he got to her, he crouched beside her. When he said: “Oh, Christine,” it seemed almost an afterthought, an odd realization, etc.
Also, The Phantom did not wear the Persian-style outfit during this scene; he wore his regular clothes. And, while on the topic of his mask, I should note here that it looked to me like his mask was somehow ill-fitting. In fact, I noticed this during the entire show.
Buquet in this production seems much younger than in previous productions. And, instead of singing “a great black hole served as the nose that never grew,” he sang something about the darkness of The Phantom's eyes. It was a move a way from Leroux, but it made more sense, considering the type of deformity which is portrayed in the Andrew Lloyd Webber version. Buquet was quite amused by Madame Giry's warning. Madame Giry, as portrayed by Christy Morton, is very serious, but not cartoonishly so. I also noticed that she was exceptionally tall. I imaged that the reason she became a ballet mistress, rather than a ballerina, was due to her height.
“Notes” and “Prima Donna:” I definitely prefer the new set for the managers' office. It's part of the sort of barrel thing which is a main aspect of much of this production (the barrel turns around, opens up, etc, to show various aspects of the Opera Populaire). It was absolutely beautiful, watching the barrel open up to show the managers' office. Their office is full of red walls, red velvet seating, a gorgeous desk, and framed posters on the wall, which show the various productions the Opera has played. Toward the beginning of this scene, they hang a poster for Hannibal. Near the end of this scene, they hang a poster for Il Muto (but, when “Notes II” happens in Act 2, the poster for Il Muto has been removed).
Almost everyone comes in with umbrellas, and their clothes actually look wet. The managers in this production are not as cartoonish as in previous productions, but they are still mostly effective. When Raoul sings: “What is it that I'm meant to have sent?” there is no humorous response to correspond with the “Wrote? Written?” line. Raoul spent a lot of time harassing Meg about the whole situation, while the others sang. At one point, during one of The Phantom's letters, he was visible above the stage, watching everyone. I would have found this more enjoyable if he had actually been singing his lines live. At any rate, it was nice to see The Phantom, rather than have his presence implied.
During “Prima Donna,” Carlotta changed into her Il Muto costume behind a small dressing wall. If I remember correctly, this scene was portrayed the same way in the movie (which I mostly detest), but I liked how it was portrayed onstage. I noticed that one of the stage hands (in the show, not in real life!) kept peeking behind the wall to catch a glimpse of Carlotta naked. This stage hand then kind of tilted his head and winked at the audience. It was a minor detail, but I was impressed by it, all the same.
Il Muto, and “Poor Fool He Makes Me Laugh:” The set was slightly different, but overall, the staging for the first half scene was the same as in the previous version. The only major difference was, just before Carlotta's infamous croaking, she used some throat spray. This does away with any magical interpretations of her croaking (in my opinion, in the musical, ventriloquism is not a realistic interpretation, because The Phantom's laughter overlaps Carlotta's croaking).
Most notable during this scene, though, was the death of Buquet. The barrel thing closed a bit, so we saw backstage, while the ballet dancers perform “the ballet from Act 3 of tonight's opera.” What we saw backstage was a couple of stagehands, including Buquet. None of them noticed that there's a man dressed just like them, but with his back turned to the audience, making a noose. As soon as this faux stagehand turned around, we the audience saw the mask, and realized he was The Phantom. He put the noose around Buquet's neck, and Buquet was pulled to the ceiling. Buquet's corpse never appeared on the stage of the Opera, but the chaos backstage caused the ballet dancers to panic. As Il Muto is postponed, the set shifted around, but I don't remember hearing Christine and Raoul's “No, we must go up! To the roof!” exchange.
“Why Have You Brought Me Here,” “All I Ask of You,” and “All I Ask of You (Reprise):”
The roof scenery, for the most part, was beautiful. There was a snow effect, a view of the city on a backdrop behind the stage, etc. However, the statue, while a beautiful design, looked cheaply made, in my opinion. It was a massive golden angel (on the level of the stage, rather than hanging above), but it looked like it was made of cheap plastic or plaster, in my opinion. Of course, I didn't expect to be actual gold! But I didn't expect it to look like something which could be made for a community theatre production, either (no offense to community theatre! I'm merely talking about budget management, and a show like POTO obviously has a much higher budget to work with than community theatre has).
Here, we first started to see just how mentally unstable Christine was, and how insecure. Celia did a good job of portraying just how terrified she was, as Raoul tried to calm her down. When Raoul sang: “The Phantom of the Opera is here: Inside your mind!” he took ahold of Christine's head with both hands. I noticed that Christine really put a lot of emphasis on the darkness, the night, and how it now seemed to repel her, almost to the point of nausea. When she sang: “Yet in his eyes, all the sadness of the world,” Christine's own eyes seemed filled with pity. As The Phantom's ghostly voice sang her name, Raoul also reacted to the sound, but Christine seemed to delay her line: “What was that?”
Things got rather interesting as “All I Ask of You” started. While Raoul scurried about looking for the source of the ghostly voice, Christine walked out to the very edge of the stage, leaned forward a bit, and stretched out her arms, so that the wind blew her cape out from around her. She seemed ready to jump off the top of the Opera House. However, her face did not portray depression, despair, or panic. Her face was actually rather serene, almost trance-like. Therefore, it was unclear why she was ready to jump off the building. My interpretation is that she is overwhelmed, but is beginning to dissociate from everything that's been happening around her. And, in her numb state of dissociation, something in her subconscious was prompting her to commit the ultimate act of self-harm. As soon as Raoul noticed what she was doing, he reacted with horror and said her name. She then jolted back to reality, looked scared, backed away from the edge, and collapsed on the stage, upset.
For much of “All I Ask of You,” Raoul and Christine did not touch. He stayed at a distance, as if afraid Christine was too fragile for physical contact. He was almost pleading with her, as he sang. And, when Christine sang back, she in turn seemed to be pleading with him; she was desperate for someone to protect her, more than anything else, it seemed. When it came time for the kiss, Raoul finally rushed to Christine, kissed her quickly and roughly, then backed away, both of them embarrassed. Then, they stepped closer together, slowly, for a more gentle and romantic kiss. At the end of the song, Christine scurried off much faster than Raoul; they did not leave the stage together.
During the Reprise, The Phantom was on the level of the stage, peering out from behind the new angel statue. He became rather hard to hear on some of the high notes, but sounded angry when singing: “...when he heard you sing!” Then, as Christine and Raoul sang in the distance, The Phantom very quietly whispered “No” once; it was barely audible. As the scenery spun around, to the cast of Il Muto, The Phantom was off to the side (in Box 5, I believe), and yelled:”Go,” while pointing at the chandelier. When the chandelier fell, the bulbs started blowing out, making popping sounds, descending, etc. However, the chandelier did not fall all the way. It stopped about halfway down. During the Intermission, it went back up.
“Masquerade,” “Why So Silent,” Backstage with Raoul and Madame Giry: Firman and Andre seemed dressed rather normally, except for some boring masks with long beaks on them. No fancy or amusing costumes for either manager. The staircase is gone, but the set was still beautiful, with a full mirrored ceiling. With the exception of the managers, most of the characters' costumes were the same as before. However, I was unable to spot Carlotta and Piangi for most of the scene. The dancing was beautifully choreographed, and I remember thinking that I'd love to go to a masked ball like this one!
Something which really struck me, though, was that they sang: “12 months!” instead of “6 months!” So, it's been a full year since The Phantom had made himself known, after the chandelier fell. I find that to be a pretty drastic change, and I'd love to know the reasoning behind it.
Also, this scene is when Raoul started to show some aggressive tendencies, which I found rather unsettling (mostly, because I worry the change could be meant as foreshadowing for the way Raoul is portrayed in Love Never Dies). He was quite brusque during his exchange with Christine regarding their “secret engagement.”
When The Phantom appeared, he came out from behind a door on the stage. And, as most people are now aware, he no longer wears the Red Death costume. His new costume reminded me of the costume in the 2004 movie version, unfortunately. His mask was the same as his everyday mask, but somewhat glittery and silver. “Your chains are still mine” has been changed to “Your voice is still mine.” I'm mostly neutral on that lyric change, leaning toward a positive view. However, I'm not a fan of the change to The Phantom's costume, not at all.
The most notable thing about Raoul and Giry backstage was the shadow projection, hands-down. As Madame Giry told Raoul what she'd seen at the “traveling fair,” shadows were projected to the side of them. The shadows showed a cowering Phantom with a bag over his head, and a violent freak show owner, who roughly pulled the bag off of The Phantom's head, to display to visitors of the carnival. Then, as Madame Giry sang: “They never found him; it was said he had died,” the shadow projections showed The Phantom strangling the owner of the freak show with a Punjab lasso.
“Notes II,” “Twisted Every Way,” Rehearsal for Don Juan Triumphant: For the most part, this “Notes” scene played out similarly to previous productions. However, Carlotta did not say “She's mad” in response to Christine's protestations, which disappointed me. And, before Christine began protesting, she slapped Raoul in the face. From my seat, which was so close to the stage, the slap was completely unconvincing and poorly staged. During “Twisted Every Way,” Christine was talking to herself, more than anyone else, and nobody really seemed to truly hear her feelings.
The rehearsal for Don Juan Triumphant struck me as quite effective, and the one particular change to this scene really impressed me. After the usual confusion of Piangi being unable to hit the notes properly, the piano began to play on its own, as usual (I actually was surprised the piano still did this, considering the new, realistic staging of the show). But, when everyone began: “Poor young maiden, for the thrill on your tongue of stolen sweets,” they all pointed at Christine, who was standing separately from them. She recoiled, of course. I am pleased that the new staging emphasizes the symbolism of that particular lyric in Don Juan Triumphant.
“Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” and “Wandering Child:” The graveyard set is different than in previous productions. There's some kind of monument in the middle of the stage, toward the back. But Christine's father's grave seems to be to the left side of the stage. Celia Hottenstein sang the song beautifully and with proper emotion, but something was missing for me. I'm not sure what was missing, though. I just know that the last few times I've seen POTO, I've cried during this song (first, due to my father abandoning my family, and then due to his eventual death, just after he contacted my family for reconciliation; he died while I held his hand). But I didn't really cry this time around, although I had a lump in my throat during the lines “no more memories, no more silent tears.”
The most notable moment in this song, really, was that the verse: “Passing bells and sculpted angels...” has been changed to: “Three long years, I've knelt in silence, held your memory near me. Three long years, I've murmured sorrows, willing you to hear me.” Until now, I had only heard this version of that verse during the recording with Claire Moore as Christine. I've always preferred this version, honestly; I've found it more emotionally effective. Of course, doing the math on this can become interesting, because we've already learned that in this new staging, the second act occurs an entire year after the fall of the chandelier. Putting two-and-two together, that means The Phantom must have started tutoring Christine no longer than a year after her father died, most likely. No wonder Christine is so emotionally unstable and confused!
The Phantom walked out from behind the monument in the middle of the stage. As a result, from a visual standpoint, his power over Christine was not as immediately evident. However, his voice and words clearly held power, as she was quick to accept him to be her Angel of Music. The best thing, though, in “Wandering Child,” is that they have brought back the original London trio of the song! Raoul enters at the same moment as in the Original London Cast Recording. I adored hearing “Wandering Child” as a trio, although Raoul was perhaps a bit too vocally aggressive at times. Because The Phantom was stage-level, the fireballs he shot at Raoul were very sleight-of-hand, as he seemingly snapped his fingers, and a fireball emerged each time.
Before the Premiere and “The Point of No Return:” I had told my nephews about the voices echoing around the actual theatre as the doors are secured, as well as when The Phantom sings: “I'm here... The Phantom of the Opera...” To my delight/relief, this effect remained the same. Not only that, but there were marksmen positioned in the auditorium of the actual theatre, as well. Because my nephews and my sister were in the balcony, I turned to look up there, and they even had a marksman positioned at the front of the balcony of The Ohio Theatre. It was very cool.
“Point of No Return” was as close to my long-imagined ideal version as I've ever seen. At the start, The Phantom briefly put on a Piangi accent, but that was quickly abandoned. The scene was sensual, as usual. However, rather early in Don Juan's verses, Christine obviously realized it was The Phantom instead of Piangi! For so long, I've been annoyed by Christine going the entire length of the song without realizing it was The Phantom. In this version, she did not realize it right away, but she realized it well before the midway point in the song. I think it was around the lyric: “Abandon thought, and let the dream descend,” when The Phantom put his hands over Christine's eyes. He didn't touch her face, but his fingers were tightly interlocked. She tried to remove them, but was unable to do so. At this point, she panicked and ran, obviously realizing The Phantom was singing in Piangi's place. But, as Don Juan's verse ended, Christine went from frozen panic to something else.
I suppose interpretation of this would depend upon the viewer, but I interpreted Christine's behavior during Aminta's verse such that Christine was pleased to find the one way she could have power over The Phantom, rather than the other way around. And I was very happy with this interpretation, because I've long thought it would make more sense. Unfortunately, however, The Phantom's body language while sitting on the bench was rather subdued. Call me a pervert, but I really prefer it when The Phantom seems physically wracked by lust during this scene. The one moment which definitely caused a twinge in my lower abdomen would have been when Christine, while atop the table, spread her legs a bit, and The Phantom slowly ran his hand up her leg.
Of course, as soon as Christine got her moment, she pulled back the cowl from The Phantom's face. The marksmen ran onto the stage, but Raoul stopped them, for no apparent reason, really; they had a clear shot of The Phantom, after all. When The Phantom gave Christine his ring, he literally went down on his knees before her, a true proposal. It was heartbreaking to see her respond by unmasking and de-wigging him in front of everyone.
Final Lair: The first really notable thing was, when Christine and The Phantom are in the lair and Christine sings: “Have your gorged yourself at last...” It was clear that Christine had been forced into the wedding gown, as The Phantom was tossing her Aminta costume aside. So, it was clear why Christine was worried that The Phantom was going to victimize her sexually, as he'd just forced her out of one dress and into another. And, as in previous stagings, The Phantom really did not understand that it was no longer the mere fact of his deformity which was causing Christine's fear and revulsion. And, if I remember correctly, Christine never wore a veil during this entire scene.
When Raoul appeared, Christine was cowering on the floor, and The Phantom easily looped the noose over Raoul's neck. Christine's anger towards the Phantom was very obvious, and while he did react slightly on the line: “...turn to tears of hate!” he seemed to regroup rather quickly. Soon after that, there was a moment when Christine sat on the bed, and The Phantom forced her onto her back and held her down. I was very disconcerted by this, and was afraid there was going to be blatant rape imagery (rape is something I'm very sensitive about, for personal reasons). However, The Phantom did not actually get on top of Christine, and was quick to let her up off of the bed, thank goodness.
It was not really clear what The Phantom was expecting when he ultimately ordered Christine to make her choice. And, unfortunately, it was not clear what happened in Christine's mind to finally help her to have some deeper understanding of The Phantom. But, when she kissed him, it was as intense as in previous productions. However, at one point, they both fell to the floor, and embraced rather than maintaining another kiss.
When The Phantom pulled away, he seemed confused and overwhelmed by the physical contact. The lyrics here were jumbled and a mess. But I don't know if Cooper Grodin was messing them up, or if the lyrics have been changed to be more disjointed. At any rate, I prefer what I was used to hearing in the U.S. Tour; it was emotional, but also organized from an aesthetic standpoint.
Once The Phantom was alone, he frantically moved to collect his sheet music (Christine had taken it and thrown it around during the “farewell, my fallen idol” verse, much to The Phantom's chagrin). When Christine came back to return his ring, he was still on the floor, singing: “Christine, I love you” to his sheet music. He was not even aware that Christine had come back to return his ring. I have mixed feelings about this. One one hand, it's so heartbreaking that he didn't get that final moment with her, and that is in itself quite effective and moving. On the other hand, I missed Christine and The Phantom having that final moment together.
It was around that moment when I started to cry in earnest, rather than having a lump in my throat. When The Phantom “disappeared,” he simply wrapped his cape around himself, while standing up. Meg and the mob came into the lair, and Meg ran to the caped figure. I didn't know if she was trying to randomly protect The Phantom, or if she meant to expose him to the mob. But she pulled the cape back, and it fell to the floor; The Phantom was gone. The final image of the show was similar to before: The Phantom's mask was left behind, and Meg picked it up and pensively looked at it.
Final Thoughts: Overall, I was okay with the new staging. I had nightmares for months, about all the horrific things which could potentially happen in the new staging, LOL. There were a couple of aspects I actually preferred (such as the steps during the title song, the set for the managers' office, and Christine's acting during “Point of No Return). But there were also changes I fully disliked, such as The Phantom's costume during “Masquerade,” the new staging for “Music of the Night,” and the new set design for The Phantom's lair. Cooper Grodin was a fine Phantom, despite occasional vocalizations which I found unpleasant. I also disliked some of his excessive aversion to touch, but I blame that on the new director; I accept and value the fact that The Phantom would be somewhat awkward with touch, but I believe he also craves touch, so his aversion in this production was often overdone, in my opinion. Celia Hottenstein was a nice Christine, especially when portraying Christine's emotional problems. But, beyond that, I found her difficult to identify with. Ben Jacoby would have been a perfect Raoul, besides the occasional hints at violent/controlling tendencies (perhaps he was directed this way, as foreshadowing for the LOVE NEVER DIES sequel, but if so, I'm even more repulsed by this change in direction). Overall, though, I am happy to say the new U.S. Tour is not a complete disaster, by any means. That said, I definitely prefer the original staging, as a whole.
This was very long; thanks for reading!