By Manning Harris
The longest-running show in Broadway history is back to thrill you again: “The Phantom of the Opera,” music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart, is playing at the mighty Fox Theatre through March 5.
The legendary “Phantom” opened in London in 1986 and on Broadway in January, 1988. That’s a run of about 30 years in in New York. It is the most successful theatrical production of all time, with world-wide box office revenues in the billions, surpassing even cinema giants like “Titanic” and “Avatar.”
You might think that by now audiences had had enough of its lush theatricality, soaring music, and tragic, grand romance. You’d be wrong.
At Friday’s sold-out performance you could have heard a pin drop. This show has touched something in the Zeitgeist. It has universal themes of love, longing, and loss that reach people on a visceral level in powerful, unexpected ways.
For example, have you lost someone you loved? Christine’s (Katie Travis) second act “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” soaring and exquisite, sneaks up on you and you’re a goner.
And haven’t we all worn a mask (metaphorical perhaps) thinking we weren’t good enough or pretty enough, or worse, that our whole existence is a cosmic error? This is the plight of the Phantom (Derrick Davis), the gentle “monster” who by the end of the evening will tear your heart out.
As I watched the show Friday, I told myself that I shouldn’t be getting this moved: After all, I’ve seen “The Phantom of the Opera” several times, starting with a Broadway performance in 1989. I saw it again in New York in 2001; then again, at the Fox in 2010 and 2014 (Cameron Mackintosh’s re-imagined version, with more stark and naturalistic sets in the Phantom’s lair under the Paris Opéra House—which is the current version).
So it’s not like I don’t know what’s going to happen. But with theatre’s magic “willing suspension of disbelief,” I was more captured than ever. By the last scene, which features the Phantom, Christine, and Raoul (Jordan Craig), who is Christine’s childhood playmate and now her handsome, would-be lover, I was a mess. To paraphrase John Keats, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”(the beautiful lady without pity) had me in thrall. By that, of course, I mean this eerie, beautiful play.
Please don’t tell me that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is old hat now: You’d be like a gnat gnawing at Mount Everest. “The Music of the Night,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “All I Ask of You,”and “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” are now timeless, beloved anthems that will outlast us all.
And such singing! The aforementioned Derrick Davis, Katie Travis, and Jordan Craig (more about him in a moment) all possess gorgeous voices, and they endue their roles with grace and power.
Trista Moldavan’s Carlotta, the Opéra’s resident prima donna before Christine appears, has a lush, delightful voice; Ms. Moldavan is also very funny.
The orchestra, conducted by music director Jamie Johns, is glorious and fills the cavernous Fox. The show is directed by Laurence Connor. I wish I could mention more names in this superb national company.
Atlanta theatre regulars have a special treat in this “Phantom”: Although born in Houston, Jordan Craig is a hometown boy to us, having moved here in 201l and played leads in “Spring Awakening,” “Next to Normal,” “Xanadu,”and “Legally Blonde,” among others, before moving to New York.
He was always very good; but now he’s grown into a complete performer, and the fact that he is playing a leading role in this legendary show, touring the country in the national company, fills his many fans with pride and joy. I have the good fortune to know him a bit (full disclosure), and to see him take his curtain calls with the other two leads, with that vast audience standing and roaring their approval was a lovely, memorable experience. A brief interview with Mr. Craig will appear shortly on this website, so please don’t miss.
And don’t miss this show. If you’re a “Phantom” virgin, beg, borrow, or steal a ticket immediately (or just get online). If you’ve seen the show before, prepare for a raw emotionality that quite frankly knocked me flat.
Katharine Hepburn once said about Greta Garbo, “You don’t become that famous without having something very special.” It’s the same with “The Phantom of the Opera.”
For tickets and information, visit foxtheatre.org.