Review: ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ Is Grander Than It’s Ever Been

Derrick Davis in the North American tour of "The Phantom of the Opera." Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

Thirty-three years and nearly $6 billion in worldwide revenue later, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” continues to beautifully haunt audiences now in 2019 where it’s currently playing to capacity crowds at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts through July 21st. The North American tour offers a clearly reinvigorated version of the classic musical, overseen by producer Cameron Mackintosh.

Derrick Davis and Eva Tavares in the North American tour of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

This rendition of “The Phantom of the Opera” has retained the show’s original essence and purity while reveling in an extra technical boost that is sure to bowl over audiences. For instance, the amazing new set design by Paul Brown takes us right into the infamous Paris Opera House, which is highlighted by a visual and auditory splendor with its Victorian-reminiscent richness and an underground forebodingness that is as exquisite as it is stirring to behold (watch out for the staircase that appears out of nowhere!). There are also the shimmering golden mirrors that characterize the “Masquerade” ball at the start of Act II along with the famous ceiling-affixed chandelier, this time with an astonishing 6,000 beads, thanks to its designer Howard Eaton. The modernized choreography by Scott Ambler, a revitalized staging by director Laurence Connor, and a sumptuous lighting design by Paule Constable give Maria Björnson’s original breathtaking costumes an ideal milieu for them to be appreciated all over again.

While the technical marvels of this production are top-notch, the narrative — based on Gaston Leroux’s novel and adapted by Webber and Richard Stilgoe — remains doubtlessly compelling because it tugs not just at the heart but at the notion of being misunderstood. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the Elephant Man, and the Beast (in “Beauty and the Beast”), to just name a few, the disfigured Phantom is simultaneously brilliant and fearsome. He is cut off from society where he unravels in his solitude, his perspective narrowing and his obsessions growing in the cellars of the Paris Opera House.

David Benoit and Rob Lindley in the North American tour of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

The object of The Phantom’s (Derrick Davis) fixation is Christine Daaé (Eva Tavares), a demure ballet girl, who at the recommendation of Madame Giry, the ballet mistress (usually played by Susan Moniz, but portrayed by understudy Daniella Dalli on press opening night), ends up supplanting the disillusioned prima donna, Carlotta Giudicelli (Trista Moldovan) at the opera venue, which is newly owned by Monsieurs Firmin and André (David Benoit and Rob Lindley). Daaé, of course, has unwanted help from the brooding “Angel of Music,” who we learn has shared a seemingly otherworldly connection to her for some time. However, while The Phantom might have his eyes adoringly set on his muse, with the aim of forcefully appointing her to a greater destiny, the opera patron Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny (Jordan Craig), has also rediscovered his childhood friend in Christine, falling in love with her. The malaise caused by this love triangle bedevils the “Opera Ghost,” who loses control of himself, leading into a chaotic descent of suspense, tragedy and, ultimately, an outcome that challenges our beliefs about people.

Bathed in Webber’s entrancing music, The Phantom’s nightmare becomes the audience’s triumph, as they’re taken along a lavish ride that sizzles, torments, surprises, and, most importantly, satisfies. The large orchestra, conducted by Jamie Johns, makes the sweeping sounds of this musical – including its galvanizing and wistful tones – known with an exclamation point. The ensemble delights with hair-raising harmonies (e.g., the “Hannibal Rehearsal,” “Masquerade,” “Don Juan Triumphant”) and the principal cast categorically becomes their late 19th century counterparts, entering a world of mysticism that is fully realized due to their indisputable talent.

Trista Moldovan in the North American tour of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

Derrick Davis has returned to the ongoing tour, and his Phantom not only fulfills expectations, he exceeds them in spades. Powerful and awe-striking in stature, he is the quintessential legendary figure whose unreciprocated love pushes him toward an inevitable destruction. Worthy of the price of admission alone is when Davis sings “The Music of the Night” with a symphonious and sympathetic timbre; it is marked by a poignant agony that completely fills the Segerstrom Hall. There is a sadness about The Phantom’s fate that looms despite us objectively knowing that his actions are unprincipled by any measure.

Davis is also remarkable in his duets with Eva Tavares’ Christine during “Angel of Music,” the title song, as well as the heart-rending “The Point of No Return.” Tavares is graceful as a dancer and euphonious as a singer, providing a resplendently sweet presence — in addition to an attractive inner strength — that almost justifies The Phantom’s obsession. Nevertheless, Tavares’ characterization conveys the all-important reminder that love cannot be owned, as it can only thrive on trust and a balanced partnership – which is the crux of the show’s message.

Tavares, additionally, brings the best out of Jordan Craig, who portrays the concerned love-interest, Raoul, during not just the tender “All I Ask of You,” but even amid quieter moments when their chemistry is still very palpable. Raoul is fiercely courageous here as Daaé’s foremost advocate in fending off the stubbornly aggressive advances of The Phantom, which gives the conflict a sense of infinitely greater urgency.

Eva Tavares and Jordan Craig in the North American tour of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

Furthermore, as Carlotta the diva, Trista Moldovan impresses with tremendous vocals to match her character’s confidence. And, as opposed to making just a dramatic imprint on the proceedings, Phumzile Sojola, understudy Daniella Dalli, David Benoit, and Rob Lindley — who play Ubaldo Piangi (Carlotta’s stage counterpart), Madame Giry, Firmin, and André, respectively — are memorable for their relatively lighthearted depictions, which offer a welcome counterbalance to an otherwise edge-of-your-seat plot.

Overall, the North American tour of “The Phantom of the Opera” is a musical on an entirely different scale – with 10 tons of mesmerizing scenery to chew on, in fact. But more than just the A-plus aesthetics, pyrotechnics, and grandiosity, the production never becomes pretentious, but rather subsists on emotion, thrill, and heart. In the end, in trying to make sense of The Phantom’s motivations, we come to empathize with his intent to be loved but learn a major lesson about the consequences of his ill-advised actions. This polarity of thought lends itself to an inscrutability about The Phantom and why he continues to be such an iconic character. Prepare to be lassoed into his spellbinding thrall!

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Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)


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