Stage Review: “The Phantom of the Opera” – Kansas City

“The Phantom of the Opera”
The Music Hall, Kansas City, Missouri
February 10, 2017

Our score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

“The Phantom of the Opera” opened on Broadway on January 26, 1988. Almost 12,100 performances later, it is still running at the Winter Garden Theater, establishing itself as the longest running show in the history of Broadway. I’ve seen the show five times on Broadway, including two weeks after it opened and was very lucky to have seen the great Michael Crawford, who originated the title role and won nearly every award for his performance twice. A “new” version of the show is now touring the country and this week it began a limited run in Kansas City.

The story is a simple one: there’s a “ghost” in the Paris opera house who has taken an interest in the latest young singer on the bill. He gives his heart and soul towards making her the best only to be thwarted by others. But not until he’s wreaked a little havoc.

Knowing that the production had been tweaked a little I went into the show with an open mind. Obviously it wouldn’t be fair to hold a touring show to the Broadway experience. Though I needn’t have worried. The production I saw was brilliantly produced and, though I had a few quibbles with some of the changes, I was thoroughly entertained.

The cast was amazing. As the title character, Derrick Davis embodied the role. Playing an iconic role can sometimes make an actor “cheat” – and borrow from other performances. I can’t tell you how much of the character Moss I stole from Ed Harris when I did “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Here Mr. Davis makes the Phantom both frightening and sympathetic, a hard combination to pull off. And musically, he is in great voice. Joining him are the other main characters. As the Phantom’s love interest, Christine, Katie Travis was perfectly cast. Torn between her feelings for her benefactor and those for the man she loves (a strong Jordan Craig as Raoul), it is easy to see her emotional quandary. Both she and Mr. Craig have a strong chemistry on stage. As the Opera’s resident diva, Carlotta, Trista Moldovan hit all the right notes, both comedic and musical. You can read my interview with Ms. Moldovan here. The supporting cast is equally strong.

If you’ve seen the show on Broadway, or in other touring shows, here are a few things that I noticed in this “new” edition of the show. Firstly, the revealing of the Phantom’s face happens twice for some reason. The show does journey to the roof of the Opera house here and the changes did nothing to effect my enjoyment of the show. What did bother me was the opening of the 2nd act with the musical number “Masquerade.” In previous shows the cast came down a huge, sprawling staircase and, even though half of the “guests” were smartly disguised mannequins, the effect was breath-taking. Here it is a ballroom lined with mirrors that, I’m guessing were supposed to multiply in the viewers eyes the number of people. I was in the center of the theatre and it just looked like 24 people dancing. Also, the Phantom used to crash the party in a striking costume reminiscent of the Masque of the Red Death. Here he looks like a cross between Iron Man and Captain Marvel. Not as menacing as a giant red skeleton. Again, if you’ve never seen the show you won’t be disappointed by the changes but if you have you might.

“The Phantom of the Opera” runs in Kansas City through February 19. Other upcoming tour dates:

Feb. 22-March 5, Atlanta, GA
March 8-19, Little Rock, AR
March 23-April 1, West Palm Beach, FL
April 5-16, Birmingham, AL

Talking “The Phantom of the Opera” with Trista Moldovan

Most actors dream about the day they will finally appear on Broadway. Even if you don’t have any lines, just to be able to stand in the background for a brief moment gives you bragging rights with your friends that you appeared ON BROADWAY. Apparently nobody told Trista Moldovan that you were supposed to take it slow. The first time she hit the boards of the Great White Way she did it as Christine, the love interest of the title character in the longest running musical in Broadway history, “The Phantom of the Opera,” which just concluded it’s 12,080th consecutive performance.

Born in Cleveland, Ms. Moldovan has tackled many of the most popular roles in musical history, including Betty Haynes in “White Christmas,” Sarah Brown in “Guys and Dolls,” Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” and Carla in “Nine.” She has also flexed her dramatic and comedic charms by starring as Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and Billie Dawn in “Born Yesterday.” In November 2012 she concluded a year-long run as Christine at the Winter Garden Theater in “Phantom of the Opera.” She’s now returned to the touring company of the show as Carlotta, the prima donna of the Opera company. Recently Ms. Moldovan took some time out to talk about this next phase in her career.

Mike Smith: You literally JUST finished understudying the role of Francesca in the touring production of “The Bridges of Madison County.” Two weeks later you’re in “Phantom.” How hard is it to have to basically be able to perform two different shows at any given time?

Trista Moldovan: To go from being an understudy, where you have to be able to perform at a moments notice to this (“Phantom”), where you’re doing eight shows a week, requires using two different sets of muscles. As an understudy you have to have a peripheral process as you’re learning the role because you’re also doing an ensemble track. For “Phantom” I’m very grateful to call the role my own and to be able to really make it my own as well.

MS: You played Christine on Broadway for a year and now you’re playing Carlotta. To me that seems like it would require an almost different type of singing, to go from what people would call “Broadway” singing – really belting it out – to a more operatic style. Was that transition difficult?

TM: Oh, yes. It’s definitely a different “sing” than Christine. Christine has more of a musical theater flavor whereas Carlotta is 100% operatic. She has a much more heavier sound…a much more legit sound, of course. And I had not sung like that for years, so that was very fun and very challenging to work up my chops and to work on the material. It was an amazing challenge and it’s so much fun to be able to sing like this every night because I don’t do opera. I can’t think of another role where I’d be able to sing like this. And I love it. It’s great. It’s so much fun.

MS: You have played so many iconic roles in musical theater. Is there a role you haven’t played yet that you would love to take on?

TM: (laughs) As I’m moving into a different part of my career it’s opened up a world of character roles. More comedic roles. So now my sights are set on roles like Madame Morrible in “Wicked” and, maybe in a few years, Madame Thenardier in “Les Miz.” More of the supporting, secondary roles. A couple of years ago I never thought they would be in the realm of possibility but now I’m sort of at the beginning of that part of my career.

MS: How long will you be with “Phantom?”

TM: As of right now I’m staying until the fall then after that…I don’t know, it seems like it’s an eternity away. After that we’ll re-evaluate when the time comes. But as of right now I’ll be here until October 2017.

We talked for a few more minutes and I learned that she had met her husband, actor Stephen Tewksbury, while both were doing “Phantom.” (She was Christine, he was the Phantom’s understudy). She laughed when I told her how cool that was, because finally the Phantom got the girl! “The Phantom of the Opera” plays through February 19th at the Music Hall in Kansas City. For more information or to purchase tickets, you can go here.