Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular Crivello/Hertzenberg (alt)/Ragone - 16 September 2009 7:00pm


Fans Week went by in a bit of a blur, so my reviews may not be as extensive or coherent as I usually try to make them. But I'll do my best to hit the high points.


With Bryan still putting his Red Death costume together, he and Lindsey would be holed up in their suite, skipping out on not only the Wednesday night performance, but the two Insider Sessions with the cast the following day. This being the first time I'd see Kristen Hertzenberg as Christine, I brought along my 2nd Anniversary book as well as my Christine poster for her to sign, in addition to a new Meg poster I'd created for Brianne to sign, too.


Our opening night seats were row B center, which was a prime spot for Amanda to pop her Phantom Las Vegas cherry, so to speak. Fully immersed in the sights and sounds, sitting up front forces you to look all around you since the show isn't restricted to the stage itself. I particularly like to sit up front when I'm seeing a performer for the first time so I can get a good look at their facial expressions and subtleties in their acting, in addition to getting to look at the details of costumes, sets, etc.


To pass the time before the show started, I let Amanda flip though my book. Unfortunately, that completely outed me since the two women sitting next to us happened to be Vicki and Teresa, hosts of the BlogTalkRadio show, "All Things Phantom," and my artwork was a dead giveaway. So much for remaining incognito until after the Masquerade Ball!


Having read Madame Giry's review from a couple months ago, I made sure to look for Erina Noda's Prologue costume and sure enough, there she was sitting to Andrew's right, barely visible in the darkness. I also noticed Doug Carfrae standing behind them for the first time. Michael Lackey's Auctioneer was as creepy as ever, although I think I spotted the corner of his mouth curl up in a bit of a smile at one point. I also liked how he gestured to all the parts of the chandelier as he spoke the line, "in pieces."


The overture blasted out LOUD. So loud that you could feel your chest reverberating with the bass. It was also very cool to be sitting in the second row and see the entire first row (and your own, and subsequently the rows behind you) turn around in unison to witness the assembly of the chandelier. Typically, many audience members here tend to just pay attention to the stage and the turnaround is rather sporadic. But all these phans knew what was coming and it was pretty neat to see so much participation on their part in looking around when required throughout the show.


It was great to see Elena Jeanne Batman (pardon me, Dr. Elena Jeanne Batman. She just completed her Master's Degree) again, and she brought lots of energy to the role. In fact, every single cast member brought a lot of energy to their respective roles that night, possibly because they knew that it was the inaugural performance of Fans Week and there were many phans in attendance that night. Typically bringing 110% to the show, they seemed to crank it up to 120% and the enthusiasm was appreciated. I took the opportunity to shift my gaze across everyone, picking up the little moments between characters and new elements actors brought to their roles. In my reviews of the Broadway company, I sang the praises of how each actor brought a nice, unique delivery to freshen up the lines we phans have heard over and over again. Well, Las Vegas company showed the same zeal in doing things a little differently than I remember in the past. Some of the things I noticed were Larry Wayne Morbitt nearly rolling *over* the elephant rather than just constantly slipping off it, he and Elena having a little aside at the announcement that Lefevre was turning the opera over to the new managers, John Leslie Wolfe's André literally cutting Piangi off before he could complete the word, "piacere" -- an excellent use of running over top another actor's line in order to compress the running time of the scene. I also liked how Doug, Larry and (I believe) Bruce Ewing as Reyer really portrayed Carlotta as the rightful prima donna of this opera company - the character given a great deal of respect as opposed to being an overbearing, past her prime diva -- an interpretation that the character can sometimes fall into. While she still could throw a mean tantrum, Elena's Carlotta was a talent to be reckoned with and perhaps one that didn't really deserve the Phantom's scorn. But of course, he already has her replacement in mind and interrupts her very nicely sung "Think of Me" with a falling sylvan glade.


Buquet's moment was even enhanced a bit via the other cast members. When he announced that he was not at his post, Lefevre and the rest of the company react in shock and anger since he's admitted to being a big fat slacker whose irresponsibility nearly did Carlotta in. Carlotta's rant was appropriately strong, and I liked how Brianne cringed as she let loose on Firmin and Andre. Doug also played up the comedy of Lefevre's departure by practically running offstage as he delivered his "Frankfurt" line. John followed up with a nice delivery of his "Carlotta will be back," injecting it with a little uncertainty where many Andre's I've seen seem more confident in their assertion. Tina Walsh's Giry (whose severe makeup always makes me think she's just come off the set of a Ed Wood film) also gave a nice deliver of her, "Perhaps you can afford more" line, a look in her eyes that made me think that maybe Giry's skimming a little off the top before handing over the Phantom's salary. Brianne also played Meg as being put on the spot and having to tentatively justify her outburst that Christine could play the lead.


Think of Me:
Kristen Hertzenberg's Christine started out with a VERY nervous intro to TOM, but once her voice blossomed, Meg looked so very proud of her and Reyer (who showed no confidence in her at the beginning - I LOVE how rude he is to her at first) agrees.

Kristen's vocals were very lovely, and a bit unique. I can't quite describe exactly how, but she sounds a little different for a Christine. Andrew Ragone's Raoul was incredibly enthusiastic - he practically leaned out of the box when he stood and applauded, shouting, "Bravo!" and was the first to applaud at the end of Kristen's cadenza.


Angel of Music:
Anthony Crivello's voice-over here was very ghostly and Kristen's reaction to it was like it was a warm embrace, something that comforted her. You could read into it as if the Angel of Music was her surrogate father.


Brianne's vocals continue to improve with each performance I see her in, and her acting is still top-notch, here her vocals are tinged with a bit of concern and fear as she and Christine speak of the Angel of Music. I also loved her bratty pout as she stomped off to rehearse per her mother's instructions.


Little Lotte/The Mirror:
I've commented on Firmins in this scene before, but this was the first time I've taken notice of an Andre. Here, I think I started to get a sense of how John portrayed Andre as being just a little slow on the uptake since he looked a bit confused by Firmin's innuendo-laced comment on Raoul and Christine. I'd see this again in the manager's scene when he read his note in full as if it were a fan letter before a quizzical look came over his face.


Andrew's vocals were as warm as ever, and he really projects a feeling of formality and friendship at the same time. I felt he and Kristen had good chemistry in this reunion of childhood friends.


Oh, and Brianne's final pose at the end of "Little Lotte" makes you go, "Rawr."

Anthony's voice-over here, was angry, but not quite furious. I'm not sure how far I like the anger taken in this scene, and don't think I've ever come across what I feel is the perfect balance. Now in the presence of her teacher, Christine's pulse began to quicken, exemplified by some heavy breathing ("Bosom Heaving!Christine"? "1-900-Hot-Ingenues!Christine"?).


Phantom of the Opera:
Even the doubles seemed to bring more to their small moments at the top of this scene. Christine looking around and pulling away, the Phantom pausing and peering into the darkness before them as if seeking something out, etc. The scene went off without a hitch, and as I've said in the past, it looks great when you're at "surface level" with the lake.


As Christine is doing her vocalizing, Anthony's Phantom seemed to *feed* on her voice - that's the best way I can describe it. He had a rather bold cape removal - flipping it over his head to remove it and then dropping it on the bed. I seem to remember D'Ambrosio doing something similar, but I might be misremembering. Anthony also did little things like adjust his cuffs and vest, moments I don't recall him doing in the past. It made his Phantom very much concerned with his appearance, as if his even the clothes he wore were a sort of mask that gave him the confidence and authority he may not have without them.


Music of the Night:
Kristen's reaction at the end of the title song was equal parts spent, exhausted, and surprised at what she did vocally. Her Christine was somewhere between the submissive Christines like Kristi Holden's and the in-the-moment ones like Elizabeth Loyacano, which I guess puts her somewhere among the ranks of the Lisa Vroman Christines: in complete submission under his voice but still registering a fearfulness of his influence over her.


Anthony's Phantom had changed significantly from the beginning of the run. It was definitely more romantic than his original interpretation that was more svengali-like. He was more suave, even with his Chaney-esque mannerisms (Sexy!Chaney, shall we say?). His "turn you face away" choreography seems to deliberately bring Christine in very close to tease a kiss before stepping back. Oh, and before I forget, there was a way he sang that reminded me of Robert Guillaume. Can't pinpoint it, but it echoed Guillaume to my ears.


Kristen broke into a run after the portcullis near-kiss, which I really like. Vroman always did that but the previous Vegas Christines never seemed to. Again, Anthony stressed the romanticism in the signature MotN pose before guiding her over to the mirror. When Christine fainted, he became very panicked and seemed to fumble a bit as he grabbed his cloak and placed it over her. A nice change there, I thought, if a little bit overplayed. And he held the final note very nicely to close out the scene.


Stranger Than You Dreamt It:
Anthony brought more enthusiasm to his composing, mouthing along with the notes as he played them and seeming quite pleased with what he was coming up with. Kristen seemed to have her head pulled as far back as possible, reminiscent of Mary Philbin in the 1925 film's unmasking scene. I liked the way she cringed as they paused at the portcullis before she ran off. Anthony was doing a nice furious Phantom and as he fell to his knees, he did that hand gesture to his heart that Madame Giry talked about in her review (is anyone else reminded of Herbert Lom when he does that?).


The return of the mask was in interesting moment in that I wasn't quite sure where Anthony was going with it. He seems grateful when she holds the mask out to him, after slipping it on, he seems to smile at her, but his expression suddenly hardens and he takes her hand and practically drags her out of the Lair. Now, I know that's how it's always staged, but it gave me the impression that he was suspicious of her rather than putting a little distance between them in order to fully take back control of the situation after appearing so vulnerable before her.


Notes/Prima Donna:
Lawson Skala's Firmin appeared very jovial throughout the scene, a far cry from some rather dour Firmins I've seen in the past. Maybe not as perky as Bruce Winant's Firmin, but pretty close. I also liked how Elena's Carlotta seemed more of a victim here. Sure, she was angry at the letter she received, but she felt genuinely hurt at a perceived insult by Raoul. It was only after the Phantom's voice-over that she really started to get angry, stomping around like an angry bulldog pup (that's what I always think of when I see her in that black and white dress).


Ah, Brianne's Meg. What can I say? She may not be the focus of this scene, but she totally OWNS the whole number in my opinion. From the smug look on her face when Carlotta brings up the "little ingénue" that suddenly turns to, huh?!? when the managers say the world wants their original diva to rolling her eyes as they lay the compliments on thick, Brianne silently gives voice to what the audience feels at the obvious cow-towing Firmin and Andre are doing. Her Nancy Drew skillz are in full effect as she takes every opportunity to look at the notes from the mysterious Phantom and seems to make a connection between the Opera Ghost and the Angel of Music that Christine spoke of. She's got a character arc, people!


And this question has been vexing me for years, actually. Does Carlotta (in all productions) keep her Hannibal makeup on in this scene? The black and white dress with multicolored eye shadow is an incredible distraction!


Il Muto:
Kristen's Serafimo ass volcano was a good respectable speed, and I liked how she turned in surprise at Don Attilio's remark. Other moments that stood out were Elena's delivery of "Your part is silent!" (very curt) and "You cannot speak" (half in-character as the Countess and half as Carlotta). I also enjoyed how the phans started looking all around when the Phantom's voice came out of nowhere.


There were lots of smiles from the ballerinas and Solo Dancer in the Il Muto ballet (one that is performed much better than any of the other US productions in terms of personality that the dancers give their characters). The hanging was wonderfully violent with how casual, yet menacing the Phantom released the rope that finally did his victim in. And hey, I noticed that the stagehand didn't look like the Buquet we saw at the top of the show. Is it still supposed to be Buquet or is it now just an anonymous worker?


All I Ask of You/Reprise:
Christine was in near hysterics when the scene opened as she went on about the Phantom to a confused Raoul. Both Kristen and Andrew brought a lot of earnestness to their parts throughout this scene with nice moments sprinkled in for each of them - in particular how Christine appears touched by Raoul's sweet words and when he suddenly drops to one knee she literally takes a step back in happy surprise.

Anthony's reprise seemed to almost go into falsetto at points, signifying the pain he felt at hearing Raoul and Christine moments before. He began to touch his hand to his heart again, looking very hurt but that ultimately gave way to an angry cry as he vowed vengeance for his plans being thwarted.


Nice, bright spotlight on Andre when he reveals - I believe Sam Fleming, the Associate Costume Designer, called it the skeletard. He was standing right next to the seat Bryan would be occupying the following night as the Red Death, so I was anxious to hear how that would turn out.


In my humble opinion, I don't think Masquerade has looked better than it does in Las Vegas. The lighting, the enhanced set design, the costumes, everything (if only they hadn't truncated the scene by pulling the majority of the bridge). I noticed a little bit of business during Raoul and Christine's "secret engagement" aside wherein Meg whispered into her mother's ear and then went to whisper into another masquerader on the staircase, turning Snoopy Meg into Gossip Girl for a moment. I also noticed that Christine doesn't really dance at all in this scene, just goes over to this spot, then over to that spot and reunites with Raoul and pow, they're on the staircase for the finale.


Wow, this number goes by fast.


Anyway, Kristen projected fear in Christine's eyes as the Phantoms' signature chords blared out of the speakers and she even tried to go to him while he was still far up the staircase if Raoul hadn't grabbed her and held her back. I hadn't noticed this bit before, but when the two finally met at the base of the stairs, Red Death actually stroked Christine's chin with a finger before grabbing the chain around her neck and yanking it off.


Giry's Confession/Notes II/Twisted Every Way:
Is there any point discussing this scene, really? I think the general consensus is that it's rapid-fire exposition and plot setup. Kristen went quite far with Christine's reaction to Raoul's plan, she was practically crying as she dropped to the steps on the opposite side of the stage.


Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again/Wandering Child:
Kristen was very active in this scene, entering holding her scarf as if for reassurance, and she also went up and touched the gates of the mausoleum at two key moments in the song. Despondency seemed to be the thread Kristen latched onto, a girl who trusted her father and had faith in his stories only to have them turn out to be nothing but make-believe. She held no feelings of betrayal at this fact, marking her as a Christine who for the most part was passive, allowing all these men in her life to dictate terms while she merely floated along at their whims.


Wow those are giant Phantom gloves.


Wandering Child was quite nice in that Kristen chose to have her Christine fight against the Phantom's control over her - slipping further and further under his spell but attempting to resist before she's pulled in completely. One thing I didn't like (and I think this is the first I'd seen it) was how she slowly walked toward the mausoleum with her arms straight out in front of her. It made me think she was either sleepwalking or a zombie. When Raoul came on the scene, Kristen kept far away - practically standing next to the proscenium - as the Phantom and Raoul confronted each other. It conveyed a feeling that while Christine didn't want the confrontation to take place, she was too meek to physically interfere until the last moment when she ran up to Raoul and convinced him that they should run.


Before the Premiere:
Again, great interaction with the audience looking around for the Phantom as his voice jumped all around the theatre.


Point of No Return:
Hey, is that a female monk? I took notice of Michael Lackey's character in this scene, too. What a playa. One lady leaves his lap and another one steps right in. And Brianne keeps steaming up her little moment, this time looking at Passarino with these sexy bedroom eyes and saucily pursing her lips to blow him a kiss just before twirling and skipping offstage.


Excuse me; I'm going to need a moment…


(walks into a meat locker and immerses himself in a tub of ice cubes)


(dries himself off) Now where was I?


Kristen's Aminta was a happy one, with a minor in sensuality. Like I've said before, Vegas PoNR goes by so fast, there's not much to report on. No real Apple!PoNR to speak of, although she did lightly run her fingers across her chest and up to her cheek, which was kinda nice. But then, wham bam thank you ma'am, don't look at me just put the cash on the dresser and leave, it's over.


Anthony's plea started off soft and gentle, eventually rising in forcefulness as he took Christine's hand and forced his ring onto her finger. Kristen's reaction was that things were spiraling out of control and she couldn't let it continue so she grabbed his mask and yanked it off. I've seen this moment played many different ways depending on the relationship established between the two characters and I felt this was a nice choice.


And everybody turns around to see the chandelier death drop! Woohoo!


Down Once More/Track Down This Murderer:
There were a serious number of twirling ballerinas at this performance. It was like watching the 1925 film playing out in front of me.


Final Lair:
I liked how Anthony kept looking back the way they came and up at the portcullis as if expecting the mob to be right on his heels. It gave you a sense that things were spiraling out of his control and you weren't sure what he'd do next. Kristen showed a little backbone in this scene (when the Phantom tried to take her hand in his as he sang, "which poisons our love," she quickly yanked free of his grasp), although still remaining primarily a more passive character. I enjoyed how Anthony shifted the Phantom's mood shifted after recalling the way his mother treated him - from the Colm Wilkinson-esque falsetto to a cold growl as he sang, "Pity comes too late" - rounding on Christine and shoving the veil on her head.


Hey, the Christine dummy looks a lot like Dale Kristien.


Sorry, got a little distracted for a second. Anyway, upon Andrew's arrival and fervent pleas, the meat of the show can get underway. Andrew had a gentler temperament than Ryan Silverman in this scene, who would slam his palm against the portcullis in frustration and grip it tightly, enhanced by the light glistening off his flexing biceps -

Sorry, got a little distracted again.


Okay, so trio. Kristen played the scene out with Christine strong and pushed to her limit but still not having the courage to do anything significant, instead trying to plead or reason with the Phantom rather than having to face the choice put before her. Only at the very end, when the Phantom gives her that final, angry ultimatum, does she assert herself and in doing so free them all. That moment is a nice payoff for how Kristen plays her arc through the show. And hey! No touchy Christine, Mr. Phantom! You know the rules!


After the kiss, Anthony pulled back in shock at what Christine had just done. Stumbling over to his organ, he gesticulated and was clearly not happy about freeing Raoul from the cage, but did so anyway. After chasing them out of the Lair, he stood center stage, doubled over and weeping, his spirit broken. It was a far cry from how the Phantom was throughout the rest of the show and a part that I'm glad he retained from his early interpretation. When Christine returned, he leapt up, surprised that she came back, even straightening his clothes a bit to make himself more presentable. But you could see his heart sink when she took the ring off and gave it back to him. Reaching out to hold her hand in both of his, Kristen slowly stepped back, gently pulling free of his grasp and left, turning back once in tears before running off.


Anthony's final notes were spot on and strong, and he did something similar to Howard McGillin in that he spotted the mob coming down the portcullis and quickly went to his throne and covered himself with his cloak - in something of a fearful manner. Anthony's wasn't as fearful as Howard's, but I generally prefer a Phantom to exit with more of his dignity intact, so to speak.


The throne trick works without a hitch, Brianne picks up the mask, aaaaaaaannnnnnnd scene.


Curtain Call:
Pretty good reaction from the audience (definitely better than the 9:30pm crowds) and Brianne got quite a bit of applause when she stepped out. The standing ovation started there and kept building and building until Anthony came on. But what's up with that quick gesticulation he does with his hands before he steps back to join hands with the rest of the cast? It's like he's doing a magic act. Weird…


Post Show:
Brianne came out and chatted with many of us who stuck around in the lobby after the show (Cheryl, Vicki, Teresa, Mandy, Maywood, Andy, Bryan and one or two others whose names I can't quite recall). Michael Lackey joined us briefly as well and I had Brianne sign a new Meg pin-up poster I'd made (unfortunately, I was unable to bring along a 8x10 print of it for her since my printer lost the files to that and a couple other projects I had hoped to bring along to Fans Week). Cheryl, Bryan, Vicki and Teresa headed back to their rooms while the rest of us took Brianne up on her offer of a backstage tour.


I got to see a little more than I did in previous backstage romps. After bumping into Tina Walsh at the elevator, Brianne let us peek through the door that leads underneath the stage where we could see all the machinery that operates many of the stage effects. Then it was off to the principal hallway where she pointed out the actors' dressing rooms and finally to the Giry Girls dressing room at the end of the hall.


We got to take a look at all of Meg's costumes and even hold them to feel how heavy they were. She gave us a lot of info on the details of the outfits and how they compare to other Meg costumes in other productions, too. We were even introduced to Cheeky Monkey, Brianne's faithful companion on her trip to Europe earlier this year. I also finally managed to remember to get some pics of Brianne and the two illustrations she has of my stuff. Mandy was particularly surprised to find a Meg drawing she'd made also decorating Brianne's dressing table.


Brianne then walked us down the ensemble hallway to the wig room where we got to chat with some of the members of the wig department who were setting wigs from that evening's performance. Very jovial bunch, and they were pleased that we had come for the convention.


Next stop was a tour of the stage itself (we were trailing just behind a VIP tour whom we spotted on the other side of the stage), where Brianne pointed out the trapdoors, the speakers built into the stage, various props and set pieces hanging above us, etc. Brianne let us take pictures of the auditorium before we concluded our tour.