Performing Arts

How ‘Phantom’ slimmed down and got darker for tour coming to KC

A rebooted “Phantom of the Opera” finds new magical devices for the Phantom (Derrick Davis) to lure ingenue Christine (Katie Travis) to his underground lair.
A rebooted “Phantom of the Opera” finds new magical devices for the Phantom (Derrick Davis) to lure ingenue Christine (Katie Travis) to his underground lair.

The longest-running show on Broadway, grossing almost $6 billion worldwide since its London premiere 31 years ago, “The Phantom of the Opera” has never wanted for an audience.

But producer Cameron Mackintosh says it was time to revamp one of the shows that has defined his career.

“To be honest, 25 years on, a whole new generation of artists should have the chance at the great classic musicals,” Mackintosh said. “As I’ve got the responsibility of keeping these shows up to scratch, my own sense to really want to do something new kicked in.”

The tale of the genius opera recluse obsessed with the young soprano settles in to the Music Hall for almost two weeks starting Wednesday. It has been eight years since “Phantom” last came to Kansas City, and Phanatics can expect a darker, less romanticized version.

Now, the musical’s title character is younger, moodier and more visible, and some iconic scenes have undergone a dramatic redesign — both to create something new and to make touring more affordable.

Hal Prince’s original London and Broadway versions, which are still running strong, include 130 actors in 230 costumes, not to mention the 550 pounds of dry ice and smoke machines.

“We needed to create a new show that wasn’t a pale imitation of the original, which I never wanted to do, but something that was equally spectacular done in a different way,” said Mackintosh, calling from New York City, where his retooled “Miss Saigon” is set to debut in March.

Gone is the massive staircase used for the masquerade sequence that opens Act 2; instead, in a nod to the 1910 French novel by Gaston Leroux and the original Palais Garnier opera house in Paris where it’s set, expect a hall of mirrors that multiplies the trimmed down cast of 52 in an optical illusion.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s review said the scene “offers a fresh, sophisticated take on the dated bit of staging.” The Chicago Tribune: “The scenic elements (are) still expansive and rich.”

 

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And you’ll still see the Phantom and Christine descend into the lair below the opera house, thanks to a massive and cleverly designed revolving wall.

“They’re incredibly iconic scenes, so we’ve come up with something which I think is just as exciting in a different way,” Mackintosh said. “It’s a bit of a surprise what happens, so therefore new audiences who have never seen it will say, ‘Wow, that’s terrific.’ 

And the famous chandelier?

“I think our chandelier does even more tricks than the original one,” he said. “I think it frightens the bejeezus out of the audience with the way it falls — and it does lots of other things.”

Mackintosh said a redesigned version of “Phantom” had been in the works for years, but the timing had never worked out. Just when he began working with a designer on the new production, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber was writing the musical’s sequel, “Love Never Dies.” To have two new versions of “Phantom” in two separate shows would have been confusing for audiences, he said.

Eventually, Laurence Connor signed on to direct, with a new design by Paul Brown, but with the original Tony-winning costume designs of Maria Bjornson. Connor is the British director behind Mackintosh’s new production of “Les Miserables,” set to come to Kansas City’s Music Hall in December, and the revamped “Miss Saigon,” still enjoying success in London’s West End as its Broadway premiere nears.

The rebooted “Phantom” completed a sold-out tour of the U.K. before it made its way to the U.S. in 2013. Since then, the tour has been viewed by more than 2.5 million people.

“All in all, I think the way it’s happened and the way it blends is a thrill for people who love the original and a wonderful sense of discovery and also, for new audiences, I think it feels very modern,” he said. “It’s much more visceral.”

Opening Wednesday

“The Phantom of the Opera” runs Feb. 8-19 at the Music Hall. See Ticketmaster.com or call 800-745-3000 for tickets.

Also opening

▪ “Stick Fly,” Feb. 9-26, presented by the Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City at Arts Asylum. Two brothers in an affluent African-American family bring their girlfriends home to meet their parents for the first time, bringing longstanding family tensions to light. See BRTKC.org.

▪ “The Way of the World,” Feb. 10-27, presented by UMKC Theatre at Grant Hall. The 18th century comedy follows two lovers as they deceive their friends and family to make their marriage a reality in a world focused on money and sex. See Tickets.CTO.UMKC.edu.

▪ “Lost in Yonkers,” Feb. 11-19 at the White Theatre. The Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City presents Neil Simon’s story of two brothers whose lives are upturned when they move in with their grandmother and spinster aunt. See TheJKC.org.

▪ “Curious George,” Feb. 14-March 25, presented by Theatre for Young America at Union Station’s City Stage. The comical dramatization of the popular children’s books follows Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat as George gets up to no good. See TYA.org.

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