When I was in Las Vegas the week before last, I had the opportunity to see Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular at The Venetian. Like Penn & Teller, I somehow hadn't yet gotten to it. In this case, though, I had actually stayed at The Venetian for three consecutive years. I guess three years of hearing the main theme everywhere in the casino finally got to me, because I couldn't pass it up, especially after I learned that the show is closing in September.
First let me say that everybody was fantastic. Anthony Crivello as The Phantom, of course, but also Kristi Holden as Christine, Andrew Ragone as Raoul, Tina Walsh as Madame Giry, and the rest of the ensemble as well. They played their parts well, and Crivello in particular had a way of keeping the audience captivated. However, for me, John Leslie Wolfe as Monsieur André, and Lawson Skala as Monsieur Firmin, often stole the show at some points. They were hilarious, and the two actors have great chemistry together.
I'm still not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, they didn't so overshadow the two main cast members to make their performances pale in comparison. On other other hand, Wolfe's and Firmin's performances definitely left me wanting more appearances from their characters. Don't get me wrong; this show is about The Phantom and Christine, but they just didn't have quite as much an effect on me as Wolfe and Firmin (except maybe disliking The Phantom a bit for killing people). Maybe I'm just more into comedy than romantic drama, but after seeing them in this show, I want to see a spin-off featuring Monsieurs André and Firmin.
The differences in the Vegas production
At 95 minutes, it is about 45 minutes shorter than the full-length musical. However, I thought that it was just about the right length to tell the story. Not too short that you feel that you're wasting your money, but not too long that it starts to drag on. That said, without having seen the entire show, I have no way of fully knowing if the cuts made for time led to a loss of quality; it didn't seem like that to me, though.
If anything, I didn't realize that there was a six month gap separating the roof scene between Christine and Raoul (with The Phantom eavesdropping) and the masquerade ball where The Phantom demands Don Juan Triumphant be performed. This may be because the Las Vegas production doesn't have an intermission between the acts, as it's a shorter production. Other than that, the slow flowed very smoothly, and didn't seem bolted together in order to fit the time. I think it goes without saying that if they didn't have the production down after six years, it was never going to happen.
Unique to this production of Phantom is the full opera house set, which is revealed following the prologue. It places the audience almost literally in the middle of the action. The audience of the Phantom Theatre becomes the audience of the Opera Populaire, and indeed part of the audience becomes "victims" of The Phantom's dastardly deeds. It gives the audience member a sense that they're part of the action, and not just mere outside observers.
The other major change to the show is the placement of the falling chandelier. That was one thing that I thought, without having seen the full production, that the Las Vegas one does better. In this production the chandelier falls during the climax. This is while the opera crew is performing Triumphant and Christine realizes that she's been singing with The Phantom and rips off his mask, Piangi is found dead backstage, and The Phantom takes off with Christine back to his lair. The rush from all of this action happening at the same time was exhilarating. It was, perhaps, the best point of the show for me, the other being the part at the end where the Phantom has a change of heart about the ultimatum he gives Christine.
Perhaps it's because of the unique setup of this production, but having the chandelier fall during one of the musical's key scenes, where an audience is supposedly watching Triumphant in-world, seems to make a lot more sense than having the chandelier fall at the midway point of the show, when the scene is relatively calm and unoccupied, other than The Phantom vowing revenge. Maybe the original placement of the falling chandelier makes more sense when it's actually seen.
The assembling chandelier at the beginning of the show was also pretty good. As I understand it, the chandelier is meant to be in multiple pieces, but most productions don't show this. On the flip side, one thing that I could have gone either way on was the enhanced effects. It wouldn't be Vegas without pyrotechnics somewhere, I guess, but I didn't think they added much to it.
As I previously mentioned, the Phantom Theatre at The Venetian is different than other venues where the play is performed, as it transforms into the opera house for the better part of the production. Part of its design is the giant chandelier, which is right in the center of everything. Unfortunately, this also means that in order to see anything going on there, you have to turn around. That's not too bad. There are only a couple scenes where the chandelier is prominent, but those sitting in front have to crane their neck awkwardly to see it.
Overall, the theatre is comfortable, and it's easy to see most of the action. However, the view of extreme stage-left and extreme stage-right are partially blocked from those sitting in the seats toward the edges of the left and right sections. I sat in a seat pretty far to audience-right, and found it difficult to see what was going on during one scene where the Phantom was on extreme stage-right. I can only assume the same issue occurred for people sitting on the very left during the scene where the Christine-like mannequin pops through the mirror.
The said, there are some advantages to sitting near the edge, especially for those sitting up front. This is because there are set pieces near the edges where the characters sometimes stand while in a scene. It gives a very up close and personal look at those characters, and makes you feel even more like you're in-world.
If I had to venture a guess, the front-middle section likely has the best seating for the best view of the entire stage, but as I did not sit there, I cannot confirm it. Meanwhile, the back of the front-middle section is definitely the best place to go if you want to be right below the one ton chandelier.
The shortened version of Phantom was excellent, and the story didn't suffer for the cuts made to it. Good characters, good venue, good new effects and set design. The confusion after the first act aside, the play was relatively easy to follow, even for someone like me who only knew the basics of the story. If you're planning on a trip to Vegas, I highly recommend going to see it. Go alone, go with your significant other, go with your family. Just go. And go quickly, because it's closing on September 2.