STAGE: Fantoms of the Opera

Vegas-ized Broadway blockbuster should create devotees in the desert

Steve Bornfeld

He's angry, he's ugly, he's in Vegas, baby.

Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular revs right into its souped-up expectations in an extravaganza—all streamlined, 95 intermission-less minutes of it with a condensed but complete score—that should engender an entirely new subset of fantoms.

But those who've constructed a religion around the full-blown Broadway POTO (shorthand among hard-core Phanto-philes) could legitimately lament that originators Andrew Lloyd Webber and Hal Prince sold a slice of the show's soul to Sin City.

Positioned between a sensory slam-dance for Vegas Stripsters and legit theater for Broadway hipsters, this $75-mil monster of a production ($35 mil for the show, $40 mil for the phantasmagorical Phantom Theatre), though carried by a first-class cast, occasionally plays like a highlight reel on steroids.

But in the hunt for that frustratingly elusive formula for Broadway-to-Vegas viability, this is a cleverly crafted compromise with spectacle to spare that should, theoretically, succeed—threatened only by its dark thematic crosscurrents in a town built on carefree joie de vivre. Or its top-tier $150 ducat.

What do you get for that? The Phantom's eerie entrance in Christine's mirror; blinding fire eruptions; gorgeous candelabras shimmering off faux-water effects as the Phantom and his objet d'amour row through the opera house's phalanx of underground tunnels; ominous shadow lighting overlaid with smoke and fog; stupendous sets (which themselves trigger applause, notably the grand staircase at the masquerade party scene, culminating in the Phantom's unexpected and terrifying arrival); uber-opulent costumes; vibrant vocal chops soaring above a nearly 20-piece orchestra; the Phantom blasting his bitterness while dangling from the rafters; a shocking hanging; the heart-stopping 35-mph chandelier drop above the audience that swoops to a halt 10 feet shy of your unprotected skull (anyone with a pacemaker or nervous disorder is advised to book seats beyond its target range); and the vaunted tale of romance and vengeance.

Oh, and there's that theater—a star in itself, suffused with gothic grandeur, all sumptuous statuary and elegant appointments, framed by long twin rows peopled by, well, faux people: life-size mannequins of opera-goers in deluxe dress of tuxedoes, gowns and jewelry.

A visual bonanza right down to the Phantom's mysterious mask and gruesome makeup once his hideous disfigurement is revealed in the gripping denouement.

The story revamp reinvents Phantom as a speedier vehicle—it gallops along with gusto—but at the cost of some narrative texture.

A hurry-up-and-shove-'em-together tenor replaces the rich development of relationships between dewy young singer Christine and her great love, Raoul, as well as the Phantom's (in his jealous mind) with Christine, whom he mentors as his secret student. That accelerated creation of the tragic triangle shortchanges the show early on, robbing it of emotional resonance that would lend the Phantom's roiling rage and excruciating loneliness the depth we need to sympathize with his suffering.

Yet, eventually, the production's driving momentum into the Phantom's revenge against Raoul, deadly reprisals against the opera house and snatching of Christine—colored by a lead cast able to paint characters in a few brush strokes—narrows the gap between visual pizzazz and heartfelt passion so it feels close to emotionally complete by the climax.

To withstand the creative and vocal demands of the show and its taxing weekly schedule, the Phantom, Christine and the diva Carlotta have been double-cast. At the performance caught by this reviewer, Elizabeth Loyacano (rotating with Sierra Boggess)—blessed with a voice that swirls seamlessly around Lloyd Webber's stratospheric score—essayed a delicate yet well-defined Christine who doesn't sacrifice stage presence for the subtleties of her performance.

And as the Phantom, Anthony Crivello (alternating with Brent Barrett)—possessor of some powerful pipes—conquers the script cuts to create a compelling Phantom, his portrayal transcending terror to reach a tenderness that gives the piece its poignancy. His presence echoes throughout the show, a galvanizing force that's present onstage even when he's not.

Simultaneously slimmed down and bulked up for Strip success, Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular is a grand, glam, goose-bumpy good time.

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