While “Cats” took a 16-year hiatus (from fall 2000 until the opening of the new Broadway revival), “The Phantom of the Opera,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s other mega-musical blockbuster, has kept running. And in 2006, it took the place of “Cats” as the longest-running Broadway show of all time.
Despite countless cast changes, Hal Prince’s celebrated production has remained virtually the same over the years. Stepping inside the Majestic Theatre, you can’t help but feel that you’ve stepped back into 1988, before “Wicked” and “The Lion King,” when a chandelier crashing down to the stage in slow motion seemed like an unprecedented feat of stagecraft.
I’ve never cared all that much for “Phantom.” The score is far weaker than other Lloyd Webber works such as “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita” and even “Cats,” and the characters are one-dimensional. But over the years, I’ve come to appreciate its sincere embrace of late 19th-century décor, romantic melodrama, mystery, operatic pastiche and syrupy ballads, and even the chandelier.
The production team has always kept “Phantom” in pristine condition, down to the last physical detail and casting decision, and now is no exception. James Barbour is giving a terrific performance in the title role that capitalizes on his rich baritone voice and muscular presence.
Barbour is joined by Ali Ewoldt (who makes for an especially vulnerable and sensitive Christine) and Jordan Donica (a recent college grad making his Broadway debut as Christine’s beau Raoul). This marked one of the few times I felt as if the pomp and pageantry of “Phantom” was playing side by side with the central love triangle rather than eclipsing it.
A revamped production (directed by Laurence Connor of “School of Rock”) has recently been touring the country. Wouldn’t it be interesting if it played a short run on Broadway, maybe even right across the street from the original production? Has anything like that ever happened before?