Categories: Entertainment

Phantom of the Opera features technical wizardry

Stagehands work on the chandelier for the stage production of Phantom of the Opera in preparation for the matinée at the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton Thursday.

The Phantom of the Opera is unparalleled in its success worldwide grossing more than $6 billion in its 30-year life span.

It’s the longest running Broadway show clocking in at 12,000 performances. It’s no wonder producer Cameron Mackintosh decided to retool the musical, now playing at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium until Sunday, Aug. 6.

Technology made massive leaps in the last three decades and this touring version cashes in on the advances to create a grittier production.

“They’ve kept the key elements. It’s the same music, the same text. This show gives it a more cinematic flow. The scenes flow and dissolve more naturally and quickly,” said stage manager Mitchell B. Hodges.

Whereas the original Phantom was a romantic figure in the Hal Prince-directed version, this interpretation by director Laurence Connor reveals a more complicated, menacing individual.

It is still the same story about a deformed genius who lives under the Palais Garnier opera house and falls in love with Christine, a beautiful young opera singer.

But when Raoul, her old childhood friend shows up with romance on his mind, the Phantom’s jealousy overwhelms and he takes his revenge.

Playing the Phantom is actor Derrick Davis, the third black actor to portray this elusive character after Robert Guillaume and Norm Lewis.

Well over two metres tall with an easy-going gait and soft-spoken articulate voice, Davis believes the character’s continuing popularity is his secrecy, a trait he has in common with every member of the audience.

“If you get away from the sensational elements, at the base he exhibits a lot of characteristics similar to us in society. We all have things we want to hide – things we don’t want society to see,” said Davis.

Although the actor was hesitant to divulge information about his character’s prosthetic deformities, he mentioned the half-mask covering his face is constructed from a leather-lined, lightweight plastic.

But in hinting at crowd reactions to Phantom’s deformities, Davis chuckled saying, “It’s incredibly intense. When I showed it to my mother, she turned away.”

In this revamp there is more narrative devoted to the Phantom as a man – albeit a brilliant illusionist – and how he’s lived his life in the opera house’s underbelly.

“In this one, he helped build the opera house. He was a stagehand and through sleight of hand built the secret passages. He was always in the shadows, an easy way to disguise himself,” said Hodges.

To keep the two-and-one-half-hour musical flowing smoothly, four automated computers handle complex cues for illusions, pyrotechnics, and fly drops.

“One computer is bigger than most people’s bathrooms,” Hodges noted.

Tickets are through ticketmaster.ca.

Phantom Facts

• 75 local stagehands hired in every city
• 20 trucks move the production city-to-city
• More than 1,200 costume pieces
• Richest costumes cost up to $20,000 each
• Over 120 wigs travel with Phantom
• About 50 wigs are used every night
• Show stocks 50 mustaches
• Main scenic wall weighs 10 tons
• Two opera box scenic elements take up a full truck
• 22 scene changes
• Contains more than 6,000 glass beads
• Covered in 300 pieces of gold leaf
• Three metres wide
• Weighs one ton
• Pyrotechnics and fireworks take one hour to prepare
Electrics and sound
• Phantom uses 200 speakers
• 281 candles
• 85 moving lights for four different kinds of smoke effects
• 250 kilograms of dry ice and 10 fog and smoke machines
• 120 automated cues
• 14 musicians including 10 locals

Anna Borowiecki: Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.