Phantom Las Vegas: May 29, 30, and 31, 2012 (Crivello - Holden/Hertzenberg - Hale/Leveque)

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Phantom Las Vegas: May 29, 30, and 31, 2012 (Crivello - Holden/Hertzenberg - Hale/Leveque)

Post  IamErik771 on Wed Aug 15, 2012 6:35 pm

It’s been a while, but here they are: my reviews of “Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular” from this summer! Rather than a scene-by-scene review of each performance, I’ll be giving my general impressions of the main cast members I saw as well as the venue, orchestra, and a few other things that made each performance special.

Once again, I was seeing the show with Alexi (a.k.a. TheMaskedLion) and Jo (a.k.a. Sylent Phantom). This time, though, we also brought a pair of our friends who were Vegas virgins, though they had seen POTO live elsewhere: Alexi’s cousin Lisa-Maria, and our friend and fellow musician Becky. After a fun, 4-hour drive from Costa Mesa to Las Vegas (during which we sang Phantom karaoke), we spent a night at Whiskey Pete’s, a small hotel and casino some distance away from the Strip. After that, we spent the rest of our stay at the Stratosphere Hotel, which is hands-down the best view of Vegas one could hope for by day or night. We considered getting tickets for the show on Monday, May 28th, at which Michael Lackey would be playing the Phantom. However, since it was Memorial Day, most of the best seats near the front and beneath the chandelier were already taken, so we decided to wait a day so that Lisa-Maria and Becky would be able to get the best view possible for their first Vegas Phantom experience.

We ended up going three times -- May 29th (at 9:30 PM), 30th (7:30), and 31st (also 7:30). We also sat in different sections for each performance, and we found that each had certain advantages and disadvantages. More on that later, but for now, I’ll get into each of the main actors’ performances.

~~~~~~~


The Phantom - Anthony Crivello
We saw Tony as the Phantom for all three performances, and he was superb every time. They had definitely recorded new tracks for his pre-recorded bits since last year; his “Bravi” bit before “Angel of Music” sounded smoother and more hypnotic than before, and his title song was stronger than I’ve ever heard it. Interestingly, at the first performance, I got the sense that his Phantom seemed older and more world-weary somehow, and so his performance seemed especially heartbreaking since it was clear that Christine was his one and only chance to have a happy ending. When talking with Tony after the show, though, it turned out that his Phantom seemed tired because he had been up for 24 hours straight due to Memorial Day events. The next two nights, he was much more well-rested. His Phantom was quite a bit more energetic for the second and third performances (and it helps that he had a Christine who responded to him more, as well -- more on that later), but he still had a world-weary quality to him that I liked.

Another thing I loved was that he seemed to bring more touches of Lon Chaney to his performance than before; there were lots of homages in his gestures and body language, and at certain points (particularly when he was sitting at the organ, when he was in the angel statue, and after Christine left), he did quite a bit of silent acting, using facial expressions to great effect. What also got me about his performance was how true it rang; everything he did, from his facial expressions when composing at the organ (as his composition was clearly not turning out the way he would have liked) to his tendency to hit his chest in a simultaneously agonized and detached way after the kiss, felt accurate to me on a psychological level. This was a man who I could completely believe would strangle people and yet be completely devastated after a kiss.

Tony’s final lair scene remains my favorite thing about his performance; I love how emotionally volatile he is throughout the sequence. He can go from furious to sarcastic to heartbroken at the drop of a hat, and yet make it all believable. His sarcasm toward Raoul is simply awesome, and I love how he even curtsies mockingly as his rival turns up. Amusingly, at the third performance we saw, the portcullis didn’t go up for a long while... so Tony simply stood there, staring at Raoul and chuckling to himself, as if to say “Well, come on! Oh, can’t get in? Too bad.” Eventually the portcullis did go up, and the rest of the scene went pretty normally, but that was still an amusing moment. And at many points, particularly when delivering the final lines, Tony reminded me so much of Lon Chaney’s Erik that it was a bit freaky. I also loved how when the music box started playing after Christine and Raoul leave, Tony gave it a look that plainly said, “Oh, really, music box? You’re gonna start playing now?”

I could just be imagining things, but at the third and final performance we went to, Tony seemed to be playing a lot of things directly to us. We had told him previously that this third show would probably be the last time we got to see it, and he knew we were sitting to the left side of the stage, so it sounded like a lot of the pre-recorded bits -- the “Bravi”s, the Phantom’s voice during “Il Muto,” and “Why So Silent,” especially -- were coming mainly from the left speakers. Also, thanks to a related in-joke between us and Tony, I could swear he glanced at us and gave the tiniest smirk just before yelling “Bring down the chandelier!” In addition, he made a few acting choices that Jo mentioned to him the night before as being particularly heartbreaking ones from the time she first saw him in the role -- for example, after Christine returned the ring, he just stood there for a while turning it in his hand as if to say, “What do I do now?” To wrap it all up, at the very end of that performance, Tony didn’t face the center rows to sing the final lines of the show (as is customary). Instead, he faced directly towards us as he sang “It’s over now, the music of the night.”


Christine - Kristi Holden
Kristi was on as Christine for the first performance we attended. I was interested in seeing how she played the role after having seen both Sarah Elizabeth Combs and Kristen Hertzenberg last year, but sadly, I found her rather underwhelming compared to the other two Vegas Christines. Whereas Combs was quite innovative in her acting and Hertzenberg was incredibly Leroux-faithful, Holden was comparatively a bit bland. She had a nice enough voice, but to me, her performance style seemed more appropriate for Belle in Beauty and the Beast than it did for Christine. She had decent chemistry with Brianne Morgan’s Meg and Benjamin Hale’s Raoul, but when it came to Tony’s Phantom, she didn’t appear to respond much to his acting in the more tender scenes like “Music of the Night” (where she just seemed bored), so there wasn’t much of a connection between them. She did play the despairing and angry sides of Christine in the graveyard and final lair scene well, though.


Christine - Kristen Hertzenberg (alternate)
Kristen was our Christine for the second and third performances we saw, and once again, she was superb and caused my brain to have random mini-freakouts over how much she seemed like my mental image of Leroux’s Christine brought to life. This time, I was seeing her after the battle she had with cancer last year, so I was really glad that she made it through the treatment and could still sing the role afterward. In fact, vocally, she was just as incredible as she had been before the treatment. Her acting, though, was even better. Her closeness with Meg was quite pronounced, but I noticed she seemed reluctant to talk about the Angel of Music even with the young ballerina; it wasn’t just Raoul who she was afraid of telling. Every time her Christine heard Tony’s Phantom sing throughout what would normally constitute Act 1, she seemed to go into a bit of a trance but was at least a tiny bit aware that this was happening. In the graveyard scene, her sorrow and longing to get past her need for her father were especially pronounced. I also loved how in the journey back to the lair for the finale, she didn’t just sit in the boat like a mannequin; her facial expressions conveyed the character’s terror and despair at that point. And throughout the final lair scene, her anger at the Phantom’s deception, her terror over Raoul’s and her plight, and her compassion for the Phantom himself were quite clear. I’m hoping Kristen will be picked up by another POTO company after the Vegas production closes, or at least not too long afterward; all productions deserve a Christine who can do this much with the role.


Raoul - Benjamin Hale (vacation cover)
As Andrew Ragone was on vacation when we were in Vegas, we got to see two different Raouls in his place. The first night, we saw Benjamin Hale. Vocally, he reminded me of Brad Little quite a bit, and he came across as a very likable, loyal, and strong Raoul. He just may be my new favorite in the role; his giddy, boyish romanticism in scenes like “Think of Me” and the rooftop scene, as well as his toughness when trying to protect Christine from the Phantom, came across as very endearing and true to the character. I also loved how he seemed completely oblivious to how his request to meet Christine alone in her dressing room was taken by the managers. In the rooftop scene, he seemed at first skeptical of what Christine was saying, but after a while, started silently putting two and two together -- clearly, he was aware of that mysterious voice and the dead stagehand in the previous scene. And during the final lair scene, when Christine kissed the Phantom, I noticed he pulled himself closer to the spikes in his cage, as if he was considering impaling himself right there but couldn’t go through with it, which I thought was quite an interesting choice. He did well with Kristi Holden, but I kind of wish I could have seen him opposite one of the other Christines as well to see how his portrayal might have changed with a different actress to play off of.


Raoul - Patrick Leveque (understudy)
Patrick was our Raoul for the second and third performances, and he was also outstanding. His voice seemed to me like kind of a cross between Brad Little, Richard White, and Chuck Wagner, which was rather interesting. He seemed to play an older and more mature Raoul, and made an interesting contrast to the younger, more naïve-seeming Vicomte played by Benjamin Hale and Andrew Ragone. His performance in the rooftop scene was particularly great -- he made it clear that while he wasn’t convinced by Christine’s story, he still honestly cared for her well-being. There was no eye-rolling or condescending tone from this guy; just an honest, caring attitude even though he didn’t quite buy Christine’s explanation. And when it became clear that Christine was in real danger, he became very protective and spurred on to capture the Phantom by any means necessary. But thankfully, he managed to avoid reminding me of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast despite the slight similarity to Richard White’s voice.

One thing I noticed from both Benjamin and Patrick was that rather than saying “Boy” to call the porter over after bidding on the music box in the Prologue, they addressed the porter as “Monsieur.” I wondered why, but then realized something: Since Mark Cedric Smith, who is African-American, was playing the porter, Raoul addressing him as “Monsieur” would help the production avoid quite a few unfortunate connotations surrounding the other term.


Carlotta - Joan Sobel
Our Carlotta for the first and third performances was Joan Sobel. I didn’t remember much from her portrayal last year except that she was sick the first night and didn’t seem to have gotten her voice back fully when she returned, so I was interested in seeing how she sounded when she was (presumably) more on her game. Unfortunately, even seeing her twice more, she didn’t make much of an impression. She sang her part well, but her rant at the managers felt rehearsed and she didn’t seem distraught at all; in fact, she seemed rather bored. And when she started croaking in “Il Muto,” there was no hint of surprise on her face. This is the first time I can remember being bored by a Carlotta’s performance, but thankfully, the rest of the ensemble in the “Notes” and “Il Muto” scenes held my interest.


Carlotta - Danielle White (understudy)
Danielle was our Carlotta for the second performance, and wow. I was blown away from the moment she came out onstage (the second time, owing to a chandelier malfunction) to sing her cadenza. And even when she unknowingly stepped out and then saw Maria hanging low over the audience, she stayed in character and walked offstage in a huff. She was vocally superb and perhaps the most fiery Carlotta I’ve seen yet. After the backdrop incident when she sang “Think of Me,” she charged headlong at the managers, who backed away in fright. She also charged at them and Raoul in the “Notes” sequence; in fact, that was the only time Patrick Leveque’s Raoul seemed afraid, rather than any time he was facing the Phantom.

It was clear that Danielle had read Leroux’s novel, as well -- her croak was clearly a “co-ACK!”, and after the first time it happened, she actually crossed herself before continuing. What I found interesting was that she clearly distinguished Carlotta’s personality backstage as different from how she performs operatic roles. I’m not fond of portrayals that depict the opera diva as simply a bad singer, but Danielle made it clear that her Carlotta was technically excellent but over-the-top and campy when performing in operas, in contrast to her more grounded (but still explosively passionate) personality in her normal, day-to-day life. And although Carlotta’s lines after Piangi’s dead body turns up are cut in the Vegas production, Danielle’s portrayal still had her visibly distraught. That’s possibly the fastest a Carlotta has risen to the top of my “favorites” list, and the fact that she’s a completely awesome person when she’s out of character certainly doesn’t hurt, either.


The Managers - Lawson Skala (Firmin) and John Leslie Wolfe (Andre)
They were great once again, and I loved how they changed up their characters slightly since last year. John’s Andre was a bit more level-headed, and Lawson’s Firmin had a very prim and proper façade that one might imagine concealed a somewhat uncouth sense of humor. And as before, they played off each other really well.

Some of the best moments, though, came when the “Il Muto” performance was interrupted by a spooky voice, a shaky lighting fixture, and a brief case of the diva having a toad in her throat. At the first performance we went to, when Andre announced the ballet and forgot what act of the opera it was in, he looked blankly out at the audience, and Alexi helpfully held up three fingers. John clearly noticed the gesture and pointed as he said “Act Three of tonight’s opera.” And at all three performances, when the ballet began, Andre started walking offstage and bumped into nearly every dancer there, and then ashamedly hid his face with his program as he exited.


Madame Giry - Tina Walsh
Tina played a sterner ballet mistress than I remembered from last year; she seemed to adopt a harsher tone and manner when speaking to her daughter and the rest of the ballet girls. Yet, she still kept the gentler, more motherly manner I liked when speaking with Christine. I thought it was especially neat that when she joined Christine and Raoul’s hands together during “Masquerade,” she gave them a look as if to say “Hope you two know what you’re doing, because it’s about to hit the fan.”


Piangi - Larry Wayne Morbitt
Fantastic performances again, and I noticed he took longer to climb aboard the elephant than before, adding to the character’s humor potential. His pompous walk while saying “Amateurs!” after Carlotta’s departure also got a lot of well-earned audience laughter. He was superb in the “Don Juan” scene, as well, and was clearly having a lot of fun with the character.


Meg - Brianne Kelly Morgan
Brianne’s voice seemed stronger than I’ve ever heard before from her in the role. She maintained her superb acting and great chemistry with each Christine to make Meg so much more than just the background character she often seems like.


Auctioneer - Michael Lackey
Michael was again our Auctioneer, and he continued to be the imposing presence I remembered from last year. This time, I noticed that as he was introducing Lot 666, the lighting seemed to change a bit and accentuate his stage makeup in a way that made him seem more skeletal. Because of what I’ve heard about Hal Prince’s intention for this scene -- that it was supposed to represent Raoul’s death, with the Auctioneer as Death himself -- I found the effect pretty awesome.


The Ensemble
The rest of the ensemble was once again excellent, with special recognition to Doug Carfrae as Lefevre. He added a really funny bit to his portrayal this time; when letting the company know that he’d be in Frankfurt, he shouted the line in a rather panicked tone while running offstage, clearly not wanting to stay in the Opera House even a minute longer. Mark Cedric Smith was superb as Don Attilio, and I loved the throat-slitting gesture he made when he found out how his wife was cheating on him with an effeminate-looking dude. (I do wish he had gotten to sing the famously applause-earning “observe her” in this production, though.) He was also great as Passarino. In addition, Alexi was pretty sure that Scott Watanabe was on as Buquet for all three performances. He was also great, though again playing a smaller role than the character in the full version of the show gets.

The Phantom doubles were excellent once again. There was one flub, though, during Red Death’s scene in the third performance (and this was more due to the sound crew than the performer) -- for the first line, Tony’s voice was out of sync with the orchestra. They corrected it pretty quickly, though. It’s possible that Tony might have been singing that part live and hadn’t done it in a while. Also, at all three performances during the title song, I noticed the Phantom double on the travelator (whom I believe was Michael Lackey) had a cloak that seemed a tad too short for him; when he did his “cape swish” just before following the Christine double off into the wings, it seemed like the cloak wasn’t quite long enough to pull off the intimidating, mysterious gesture he was trying for.


The Orchestra
The pit orchestra gave us a few surprises this time around. Before the first performance, I was a bit surprised that only a couple of the brass players were tuning. I dismissed it, though, since it was the second performance of a two-show night and I figured everyone was probably warmed up already. For that whole performance, though, the orchestra seemed to lack quite a bit of the punch that I remembered, particularly in scenes like “Hannibal” and “Masquerade.” The solo violinist also noticeably messed up in the intro to the graveyard scene, which really shocked me; I considered the Vegas orchestra to be among the best of any production I’ve heard. According to a few cast members, though, it seems that many of the top players in the orchestra had left the company to perform at other Vegas shows after the news came out that Phantom was closing -- the orchestra has had to make do with less experienced players, which I think is rather unfortunate. One good thing, though, was that I was able to hear the full violin solo at the beginning of “Wandering Child” -- at last year’s performances, the audience’s applause after “Wishing” covered up the first couple measures of “Wandering Child” so completely that I assumed the Vegas production had shortened that instrumental bit as well as having all the other trims to the score.

At the second and third performances, though, the orchestra was much more on top of things; the conductor had apparently figured out and corrected the problem after that second Tuesday show. Before the second and third shows we saw, more of the musicians were tuning, and they sounded much better and had a fuller sound. One thing that I was a bit sad about, though, was that the bells during the instrumental break in “Angel of Music” were quieter than they had been last year; that was my favorite change to the orchestrations in the Vegas production, but this time, I might not have known the bells were there if I hadn’t been listening for them. Other than that, though, the orchestra was in fine form for the last two shows.


The Venue
As always, the biggest reason to see POTO in Vegas is for the setting -- a theater not only designed exclusively for this show, but also built to look like the auditorium of the Paris Opera House, simply can’t be beat. We were sitting in different sections for each performance, and it was interesting to see how the different perspective affected our interpretation of the show. We were in the second and third rows for the Tuesday performance (three of us in the second row and the rest in third, so that we could all get as close to the center as possible), and that gave us an excellent view of everything happening onstage. We could clearly see all the performers’ facial expressions, notice all the smells that further set each scene (from the old library smell of the prologue to the accurate underground lake smell in the lair), and I got a good, clear view of Tony’s Lon Chaney-esque shadow when he was up on the angel statue. Another advantage to being that close was that we truly felt like part of the show, especially during the opera scenes and the bits where characters came out into the audience area. The only downside was that the sound of the servo motors lowering and raising the angel statue during the rooftop scene was loud enough to be distracting.

There were also some audio issues at that first performance. In addition to the orchestra not being at their best, there seemed to be some kind of problem with the way the soundboard was set up. Of course, as always, everyone in the cast wore a microphone. This time, though, it sounded really obvious that everyone was mic’ed up. I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but the sound from all the performers seemed very overly amplified. It wasn’t too loud or anything, but something about the way the voices came through to us in the audience seemed artificially boosted. After a while, I stopped noticing it, but for the first couple of scenes (and occasionally at random points later in the show), it was a little jarring. Then again, it could be that the vocals seemed boosted more than normal because the orchestra wasn’t delivering as big a sound as they usually did... so I’m not sure if that was more to do with the sound techs or the pit musicians. Thankfully, the sound issues were all resolved for the next two shows.

For the second performance, we were up in the balcony (mainly to save money so we could afford to go a third time, but also to see how the view was from up there). As I mentioned earlier, the chandelier had a bit of a malfunction during the Overture at this performance -- it assembled fine, but then failed to go up once all the pieces were together. As the Overture ended, Danielle White came out to sing her opening cadenza -- she told us afterward that nobody had said anything until she had already stepped out of the wings, and by then, she could see the enormous chandelier hanging precariously over the audience. (For once, I was kind of glad I wasn’t sitting right under it.) The performance was stopped and a voice rang out mentioning the obvious technical difficulties they were having. Then each piece was raised up individually to where it should have been. The entire break took a little over 6 minutes, and then the performance continued. Interestingly, the orchestra pianist played Carlotta's starting pitch since they weren’t going to play the Overture again.

Other than that chandelier problem, the performance went smoothly, and all the other chandelier effects -- the shaking and Phantom double in “Il Muto” and the final drop after “Point of No Return” -- were able to be done without a hitch. Although we were much further from the stage and it was harder to see the performers’ facial expressions, we felt we got an excellent view of their acting anyway; Danielle White’s expressions in particular came through very clearly to us despite being way up in balcony. Although I didn’t get a great view of Tony’s shadow during the rooftop scene that time, his shadow as he and Kristen came across the lake in the boat during the title song made up for it quite nicely; his shadow was again very Chaney-esque, and combined with the lighting and Kristen’s acting, I briefly felt like I was watching the silent film set to ALW’s score (which I’ve done in the past). It was quite a cool effect. In addition, I noticed some things I hadn’t before -- the ceiling over the balcony area is beautifully painted, and I encourage everyone going to the show to check it out when you can. I also noticed that when Carlotta was about to start singing “Think of Me,” the backdrop that was going to interrupt her performance was already being lowered partway. After seeing it that time, though, I couldn’t help but notice it again the next time we saw the show. Also, one thing none of us had noticed until that performance, and I don’t think I’ve read any other reviews commenting on it: When the Phantom was unmasked after “Point of No Return” and yelled “Bring down the chandelier,” flames lit up atop several columns on the walls near the ceiling. I had no idea there were torches up there, and it made for a really neat addition to the infamous chandelier crash.

At the third and last performance, we were sitting to the left of the stage, not far from where our favorite multi-piece lighting fixture would fall. It seemed to be a pretty good balance; we got a fairly good view of all the performers’ actions, and we also got great views of the chandelier and the torches at the appropriate times and weren’t taken out of the moment by the sound of servo motors moving the angel statue. Also, since we were sitting off to the left, we could see that Tony had altered his performance when delivering the final lines of the show by singing them in our direction instead of dead-center like he usually did.

Sitting in that section came with a different sort of problem, though. Right after “Angel of Music,” three or four latecomers entered the theater and sat down in the row in front of us. I was a bit surprised that anyone would be allowed in that late, and we were all more than a little annoyed that people who likely paid quite a bit of money to see this show would not only arrive late, but also spend a good chunk of the performance talking amongst themselves. One of them even took out his iPhone and was shamelessly recording bits of the performance. I was partly glad and partly disappointed that I wasn’t directly behind any of them -- glad because I was able to tune them out pretty well, but disappointed because I would have liked to tap them on the shoulder or kick their chairs once in a while. I didn’t ask my fellow Phans whether they did any of that for me, though.

But in the end, the fantastic performance made me forget all about the jerks sitting near us, and I was glad to see that the audience started applauding right after Tony sang the final lines. I remember hearing audios (particularly from the early days of the London and Broadway productions) where audiences would do that, and it always felt nice -- it was like they were telling the Phantom, “We’re with you; we accept you.” I was thrilled to have that happen while we were at the Vegas show, especially for the last performance we were seeing on this trip. Needless to say, we were all quite happy to join in the applause for a deserving Phantom before he vanished into the throne.

IamErik771

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Re: Phantom Las Vegas: May 29, 30, and 31, 2012 (Crivello - Holden/Hertzenberg - Hale/Leveque)

Post  purplehaze93 on Sat Nov 24, 2012 12:55 am

For some reason, when the the Vegas Production first started, I didn't understand the fondness over Anthony, but he's started to grow on me quite a bit. I especially agree with the Final Lair being his best scene! Has me in near tears more often than not.

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