Photos by Matthew Murphey and Alastair Muir

Like a marvelous antique chandelier fitted with new electric light, The Phantom of the Opera benefits well from a technology facelift. Though upgraded, the new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatrical masterstroke doesn’t desert the foundations of the haunting beauty of the original. On the countrary, the added bells and whistles (or should we say flames and explosions?) serve to accentuate the familiar with a new coat of dazzling shellac on a now so recognizable mask.

So, what new surprises lie in store?

Those who fear this production may veer too far away from the West End or the frightful darling of the Great White Way they have adored for decades should quickly quash such hesitations under your skeptical internal opera houses. Like the stunning set piece above the audience’s every widening eyes, this production shines. It also pops and blaze swith more pyro then a 1970s KISS concert! Oh yes, and that glorious 80s synth is very well in tact!

Some of you may recall the strange affair of The Phantom of the Opera but for those who are residing under the most un-theatrical rock this side of the once famed Toronto Pantages, allow a brief sojourn to become better acquainted with the Angel of Music. Born from the pen of one Gaston Leroux, Le Fantôme de l'Opéra was first published between 1909 and 1910 as a serialized story in the French daily newspaper, Le Gaulois. It told of Erik, the singed soulful specter residing in the bowls of the theatre longing for musical acceptance and the love of one soprano. When the woman he so desires turns to the arms of another, disasters beyond your imagination begin to occur.

Though the horror musical already had Sweeney Todd perched firmly on the throne (err…barber chair), his days were numbered. Already within a theatrical setting, Webber felt the novel had all the characteristics of the perfect stage production: love, betrayal, lust, sorrow and even a few scares. After all, if the final days of Christ, a collection of cat poetry, the Paris Uprising of 1832 and the life of the First Lady of Argentina could be transformed into a musical, well, why not the Phantom? The result became one of the most acclaimed musicals in all of theatre and certainly the benchmark Webber would be measured by for his entire career. Here, over thirty years later, The Phantom still has the power to scare while simultaneously break your heart.

“I think this story is something that speaks to so many different people and one that is rooted in a place of empathy,” says Eva Tavares who fulfills her life-long dream of portraying background dancer turned opera ingénue Christine Daaé.  

“Christine sees the Phantom behind the mask or construct he presents to everyone else. He shows everyone this tortured, evil villain but he’s shown her that he cares, that he can be kind and gentle. She sees that this has just been his way of surviving in a world that has been so cruel to him. This is something we all feel in our daily life, the want to be accepted, to be tolerant and understanding of people’s situations and not judging of them.”

Tavares addresses the universal themes in the production as simple ones but so very complex to obtain. Of course, it certainly helps that the emotions of love, rage and sadness are so brilliantly woven into the story by the melodies composed by Webber. She admits to trying to remain in character while noticing many in the audience singing along during the show. After all, she was there once herself. In fact, the actress discovered parallels with her character long before playing her.

“I identify with the journey of Christine on many levels. I first saw the show when I was ten and I remember walking out of that theatre and telling my mom that I wanted to do that. Christine started out as a dancer and becomes a singer and that’s exactly what happened with me.”

Tavares plays opposite to Derrick Davis, one of many Phantom’s to slip on the mask including Michael Crawford, Colm Wilkinson and Canada’s own Jeff Hyslop. Still, despite the lurking lineage, Davis manages to craft a portrayal dripped in far more pathos than it is terror. While the character is ultimately a sympathetic one, the actor dolefully extracts the sorrow instead of playing up the scares. He finds the balance in between, turning up the heat and intensity seconds after you find yourself wanting to embrace him. It’s a characterization that has your wiping away tears come the final curtain as quickly as you wash away all thought of the “villain's” murder and mayhem.

“I think Derrick brings so much vulnerability and depth and complexity to the Phantom. What he does with it is so endearing. It makes you feel for him, what he is dealing with, how he is struggling.”

In a recent interview with the Montreal Gazette, Davis reflected upon how he utilized every fiber of himself to tap into the emotional turmoil the character goes through.  Though receiving accolades for the tender side of The Phantom, the actor also stated he wasn’t afraid to get raw and aggressive, break a sweat and unleash the fury. “When it’s time to be ugly, let’s let it rip!”

While the title character can get ugly, this production itself is breathtakingly beautiful. If you feel you’ve seen the show before you owe yourself another visit. Even those who have ventured into the Phantom’s clutches multiple times will be in awe as the Parisian opera house is constructed before your eyes in the show's opening moments. If the 50 wigs and 1,200 costume pieces aren’t enough to unhinge your jaw take a glance upward at the 6,000 beads in the 1 ton chandelier. With a cast and orchestra made up of 52 (not to mention the dozens behind the scenes), it’s one of the largest productions currently on tour, fitting for a musical held in such high regard by its legions of fans.

Be it your first spin in this marvellous mascaraed or a return, you’re exit from the theatre after the final bows will be accompanied by your wishing you were somehow there again. For Phantom fans it’s a rekindling of a long time love and love never dies!

The Phantom of the Opera runs between October 18 – 29 at the National Arts Centre. Tickets are available now but we advise you leave Box Five empty.