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New-look "Phantom" comes to Detroit Opera House

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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The music of the night remains the same.

It just looks a little different in the current touring edition of "The Phantom of the Opera."

An acknowledged classic that won seven Tony Awards and grossed more than $5.6 billion worldwide since 1986 -- as well as spawning a "Las Vegas Spectacular" and a 2004 feature film -- "Phantom" would seem an untouchable classic. Its visual touchstones -- the chandelier, the catacombs of the Paris Opera House -- had become nearly as iconic as the production's songs such as "The Music of the Night" and "Angle of Music."

But nearly a decade ago veteran theater producer Cameron Mackintosh approached composer Andrew Lloyd Webber with a proposal "that it was time to give 'Phantom' a fresh look." Webber was amenable, and the new-look 'Phantom,' with its striking differences from the original, debuted during 2012 in the U.K. before hitting the road in North America, coming to the Detroit Opera House this week.

"Much like any production there comes a time to do something new," associate director Seth Sklar-Heyn says by phone from "Phantom's" New York offices. "There are creative and practical reasons for revamping the show in this way. The way of performance as well as audience expectations have changed in the three decades since 'Phantom' has premiered. How directors tell stories and also technology has changed -- set design, light design, sound design, all the engineering in those fields have come a long way in 30 years.

"So the goal as to provide this classic material to an audience, and as well a physical world that aims to satisfy and exceed one's memory and expectations of the original, taking advantage of things that have happened in 30 years for what we can do on stage.

"It's taking the same classic material and putting it through a different lens."

Mackintosh, whose credits include "Cats," "Mary Poppins" and a rebooted "Les Miserables," brought in a new director (Laurence Connor) and a fresh creative team, though he had discussions with original "Phantom" stage designer Maria Bjornson about the new version before her death in 2002. The production, Mackintosh writes in his essay "A New Chandelier," seeks "to contract the Phantom's darker backstage world wtih that of the traditional opera world onstage."

There is indeed, for starters, a new chandelier. "It's a character in the piece," says Sklar-Heyn. "It has a different design than the original. It can do more things -- again, technology working to our advantage. There are a lot of special effects built into it. It packs more of a punch when it wants to make a statement."

Those familiar with "Phantom's" previous production will notice other changes. The journey to the catacombs, where the Phantom takes ingenue Christine Daae to prepare her for his magnum opus, has been "complete reconceived," though a boat is still involved. New costumes were created, and the sets and scenery have been expanded and fleshed out. "The physical world is a little more tangible and a little less surreal," Sklar-Heyn explains. We're presenting the material in a different and I'd argue slightly more contemporary way and pace and energy for the audience today -- but still within the period drama, which is what it really is."

There's also a slightly altered perspective on the story, he adds. "While it's called 'The Phantom of the Opera,' we try to emphasize it is Christine Daae's story," Sklar-Heyn says. "It's the story of this ingenue. Everything that relates is because of her, and we see it all through her."

But while the look, and outlook, is different, nothing has been done to the music that is the heart of the show. And that is fully intention, according to Sklar-Heyn.

"When we started working on this production we approached it from the standpoint that we needed to hold true to the music, hold true to the story and hold true to the characters," he says. "People have a fantastic ownership of the original production of 'Phantom,' whether they've seen it one time or 25 times. Everyone has this sense that it's their show, and they want to protect it in some way. They come back time and time again because of the story, because of the characters, because of the music.

"We knew that going on. We put it through a lot of different direction, but we're still holding true to the things that are the core of 'Phantom'...so people can appreciate the new without feeling like they've lost the rest."

"The Phantom Of The Opera"

Wednesday, Jan. 11 through Jan. 22.

Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway St.

Tickets are $59-$154.

Call 313-237-7464 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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