The classic story of “The Phantom of the Opera” is enhanced by modern special effects at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, where the musical is running through Aug. 16.
The production begins by transporting viewers to an auction in early 1900s Paris. In a dim, cobwebbed space, a small group bids for once-treasured pieces of the opera house as the auctioneer begins to tell the tale of the notorious phantom. When he reaches the grand chandelier—massive, even when hovering in the 3,000-plus-seat Segerstrom Hall—the sack concealing it disappears in a magical instant: The chandelier’s lights flicker furiously and sparks fly, all while the distinctive, eerie organ music blares. In that dramatic moment, we’re hurled yet further back to a time to when the opera house was alive with dancers, actors and dreams, under the watchful eye of the phantom.
The prima donna, Carlotta Giudicelli, narrowly escapes injury on stage and then refuses to perform while such strange, dangerous and regularly occurring events continue. Perfectly portrayed by Jacquelynne Fontaine, Carlotta is the iconic, irritating diva, offering brief moments of humor that provide much-needed levity throughout the production. Her untimely departure gives young Christine Daaé the chance at the starring role. Played by Katie Travis, it’s difficult to imagine that Daaé’s powerful voice was not taken advantage of sooner. She wows both the opera house’s new owners and the audience. But we quickly learn that Daaé has been receiving voice lessons from her “angel of music”—the mysterious phantom, whose obsession with her grows along with her talent.
Chris Mann, who initially rose to fame as a finalist on NBC’s “The Voice,” is spectacular as the phantom. Filled with passion, his rage and despair is as intense and the flames that shoot up from the stage (viewers in front rows will literally feel the heat). Alongside Travis, his complex character elicits conflicting emotional responses, from sympathy for his condition to disgust at his violence, which comes to a head when he’s provoked by the blossoming romance between Daaé and her longtime friend, Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Storm Lineberger).
The sets and costumes are also enthralling. Every detail was considered, from the glittering gowns at the masquerade to the intricate wallpaper in the owners’ office. But it’s the effects that are truly enchanting. The floating stairs, for example, that emerge one-by-one as the phantom descends with Daaé into his lair, along with the blazing fire and haunting fog that create otherworldly atmospheres.
Whether it’s the exciting theatrics, spellbinding performances, tragic love story or dramatic music—or, most likely, the magical combination of all of the above—there’s something to captivate every viewer. “The Phantom of the Opera” will continue to haunt long after the standing ovation.
When: Through Aug. 16; Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa
Tickets: Start at $49
Contact: 714-556-2787; scfta.org
— Written by Katherine Duncan