Wednesday, May 16, 2012

'Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular' Closing at The Venetian

The faux St. Mark's Square at the Venetian Las Vegas announces the last
performances of 'Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular.'
(photo: TheHopefulTraveler)
Interior of the Phantom Theatre complete specially construction to house
'Phantom' in Las Vegas. (photo: David Rockwell Group)
Few would think of combining a musical set at the Paris opera with the Las Vegas desert. But over six years ago, the 'Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular' a Sin City version of the phenomenally successful 'The Phantom of the Opera' composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber dared to tackle this frontier where others have failed. But all good things must come to an end and the curtain will descend on this dream production on September 2, 2012.

This is my purpose to visit Las Vegas this year: To catch one of the last performances of 'Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular'. Despite it's clunky title and reduced running time, I was enthralled when first seeing the show in 2008. It appeared to settle in for a long run that would be indefinite. Alas this January producers announced the closing date and I was pressed to book a trip to see the show once more. I was fortunate to attend a business conference last month Vegas and during a free night I able to see the show. This second trip which is pure pleasure allows me the opportunity to not only repeat the experience one more time but take a backstage tour which will be covered in the next post.

Click HERE to view production photographs and read my review of the April 19, 2012 performance of 'Phantom' at the Venetian. Click HERE for information about the Phantom Theatre.

Ten Broadway shows have been presented in Las Vegas since 1993 with the intention of carving out a long run to compete with the myriad of Cirque du Soleil shows that dominate the Strip. But of the ten, only 'Mamma Mia' which played six years at Mandalay Bay and 'Jersey Boys' which celebrated four years after opening at the Venetian and transferred to the Paris this year. But these two shows in both the New York and Vegas versions are not known for their elaborate production values.

'Phantom,' which opened in June 2006, changed the rules and will be a tough act to follow. For starters the show cost $35 million and was presented in a $42 million auditorium specially constructed for the show. In addition the show is a full Equity production which means employing professional actors that are part of the performing arts union. Union requirements in terms of salary not for only the actors but also for the backstage crew adds a significant chunk to the musical's weekly operating cost.
(story continued below)

Cover of souvenir brochure reveals the Paris Opera House replica that
precedes the "Masquerade" sequence. (photo: TheHopefulTraveler)
Advertising at the hotel includes the tag line: "You'll never see it like
again. Ever." (photo: TheHopefulTraveler)
But the producers changed the game in how to present a Broadway musical in Las Vegas by not just presenting a watered-down 90-minute version that runs 2 1/2 hours in New York. Starting with original director Harold Prince bringing in the creative team including composer Lloyd Webber and lyricist Charles Hart the storytelling was tightened without sacrificing the show's landmark score nor its iconic production value.

In addition the design team not only duplicates Maria Bjornson's extravagnat costumes and sets but injects them with Vegas showmanship and specical effects. For this reason some elements of this 'Phantom' can only be seen in Las Vegas and nowhere else. Start with the $5 million five-piece chandelier that perilously hangs in parts over the orchestra seats. They tilt and twirl till and combine to form one massive 15-foot set piece weighing nearly one ton that rests recessed in a blue-lit domed ceiling. It crashes six times faster than on Broadway not on to the stage floor but mere inches above the audience. The sense of this chandelier's free fall is absolutely thrilling. In one moment a stuntman dressed as the Phantom swings from the chandelier.

Because the show lacks an intermission, a device had to be installed that kept in tune with the quickened storytelling but allowed time to install the curving grand staircase for the "Masquerade" sequence. A majestic facade of the Paris Opera House complete with fireworks to replicate New Year's Eve in the City of Light delights spectators and keeps the fluid movement of the story to allow for the set change.

Even the way the Phantom traps Raoul in his lair has been rethought. A terror cage complete with knives that thoroughly traps the actor and prevents him from saving his beloved Chrisine. Even the the colors in the backdrops especially in the three mini-operas have become much deeper and the rooftop "All I Ask Of You" scene more luminous. Combined with perfected lighting every inch of costume fabric glows on stage.

For those who thought it was sacrilege to chop this Phantom by nearly one hour would be hard pressed to detect the deletions. None of the songs have been cut, though a couple have had a few lines removed. The story is not rewritten and although the break-neck pace of the storytelling does not allow for investment in the characters dilemma it plays up the pizzazz of this Vegas version.
(story continued below)

This display in the Venetian directs guests to the Phantom Theatre.
(photo: TheHopefulTraveler)
Producers have chosen not publish selected elements of the show
including what has been called the "Cage of Doom" or "Terror Cage".
A glimpse of the cage can be seen behind Christine in the photo above.
(photo: Wesker69)
The show has had its share of growing problems. Initially the show was double cast with two sets of Christines and Phantoms due to the demands of performing a 10 show week schedule. This was eventually reduced to the standard 8 performances per week with one main cast. The producers have had to also renegotiate royalties and contracts with three labor unions to keep the show profitable without sacrificing quality for a show that employs 142 actors, musicians and crew members. Vendors who supplied the production's lighting and sound were willing to cut their prices to help the show survive during the downturn in the economy.

The box office grosses of the Las Vegas productions are not published. Some sources indicate the show has returned its original investment while other press reports indicate the show is $20 million in the hole. Once the 'Phantom' closes the Venetian and its sister resort the Palazzo will lack any main stage show. Rumors abound about the tenant agreements rather than partnerships that is common between other casinos and their resident shows. This presents a hostile environment in presenting a quality but profitable show.

Producers could have reduce the number of orchestra musicians relying instead of pre-recorded music and cut the number of actors or employing ones that are non-union. But all this would have sacrifiecd the superb quality of the show, one thing the producers realized would tarnish the produciton in the long-run. After September 2, audiences in the U.S. will only be able to see the show in New York City. The last of the long-running tours of 'Phantom' closed in October 2010. However the show is available for amateur presentations for schools and colleges.

By it's closing, 'Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular' will have played nearly 2,700 perforamnces during its six years and four months at the Venetian. The 1,800 seat Phantom Theatre will be renamed and until it has found a new tenant will be haunted by memories of this 'Phantom,' one of the finest and certainly one of the classiest productions ever to grace Las Vegas and will remain unlike any version of the musical to be seen anywhere.

The Phantom Theatre will be renamed after the show closes and
once a new tenant is found.
(photo: TheHopefulTraveler)
The 'chandelier in pieces' greets the audience as they enter the auditorium.
(photo: David Rockwell Group)
The chandelier uniquely designed for the Vegas version of 'Phantom.'
(photo: Wesker69)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...