The national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera" is a spectral, wondrous thing, from the show's beginning with its shrouded "Lot 666" chandelier being auctioned above audience members' heads, to the final confrontation with and disappearance of the Phantom.
The tour, returning to Cleveland's Playhouse Square after its last stop in summer 2016, is thrilling to behold. It's a massive show, featuring a cast and orchestra of 52.
This was my first time seeing the reinvented production, which producer Cameron Mackintosh created after the 25th anniversary of the premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical in London. I was particularly awestruck by Paul Brown's ingenious scenic design.
This North American tour began in the United States in 2013, after launching in the UK in 2012. The tour is the only way to see the newly conceived production, which is running in tandem with the original Broadway show that has been onstage for 31 years.
On the tour, Brown's set is dominated by a huge, rotating cylindrical wall of the Paris Opera House. It breaks apart to show a backstage dressing room, or opens just at the bottom to reveal the producers' office.
This brilliant set makes it look like the Phantom is about to step through a door into nothingness until, one by one, steps jut out of this fabulous wall as the Phantom leads the innocent Christine down to the labyrinth in the seductive title song.
This show is full of thrilling pyrotechnics and theater magic, including live flares shooting out of the edge of the stage whose heat I could feel from the fourth row and whose intense brightness required me to look away. The flares, which ignited when the Phantom's anger was provoked, also erupted from a piano at one point.
The entire show is visually stunning, including sepuchral lighting by Paul Constable and original Tony Award-winning costume designs by the late Maria Björnson.
In this story, Christine emerges from the corps de ballet to replace star Carlotta after a number of "accidents" at the opera house lead Carlotta to quit. Christine has been taught to sing by a mysterious "Angel of Music" whom she has not yet seen but believes has been sent to her by her dead father. He is the Phantom, who lives beneath the opera house and has been terrorizing those who work there.
Eva Tavares makes a lovely, girlish Christine who evokes her purity and innocence but also makes it clear she does not want to be used as bait to capture the Phantom. Christine's love Raoul cruelly cooks up this trap with opera management.
On Tuesday night, Raoul was played with debonair style by Herb Porter. Parma native Trista Moldovan pulls out all the stops as diva Carlotta, creating especially fun histrionics.
Quentin Oliver Lee, the fourth African-American actor to play the Phantom, is extremely tall and imposing and sings with enthralling power and emotion. In one of his most unforgettable moments, his Phantom kneels unmasked and brokenhearted on the floor before Christine, who is unable to look at his grotesquely disfigured face and gives him his mask to put back on.
In another gripping scene, during an opera written by the Phantom, we see Tavares' Christine panic when she realizes the hands around her from a cloaked, hooded figure -- who she thought was fellow actor Ubaldo Piangi -- are actually those of the twisted "Opera Ghost."
This tour, with its exciting innovations and staging, proves that "Phantom" still has great staying power. It includes a whole different way of looking at the Phantom's final disappearance, which you'll have to see to understand just how chilling it is.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.