Thirty-one years on, and Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera" still excites and enchants with its story of a young opera singer (Kaitlyn Davis as Christine Daae) pursued by a disfigured composer who haunts the labyrinths under the Paris Opera. The current national tour presents Cameron Mackintosh's reimagined 2013 staging that includes new settings and a few substantial changes to the original, but keeps Maria Bjornson's gorgeous original costumes.
Webber and Richard Stilgoe's central storyline remains the same: The Phantom (Derrick Davis) has secretly tutored Christine in singing; she believes he is an angel of music that her now-deceased father promised would look over her after he died (daddy issues, check). When Christine's former childhood sweetheart Raoul (Jordan Craig) hears her sing, he falls in love again. The Phantom's revenge and continued pursuit threatens ruin for the opera company and its cast and managers.
Webber's 1980s-era synthesizers and motif-driven score still power the love triangle, and Davis charms with a beautiful soprano, particularly in the solos "Think of Me" and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again." Craig's voice sounds a bit thin and nasally in comparison, as does Davis (as the Phantom). But the latter's early thinness culminates powerfully in the Act One and Two closing numbers, chilling the spine with rage-fueled renditions.
Mackintosh changed the catwalk corridors of the original into a giant turret with disappearing stairs and altered the pyramidal steps of the Act Two opener "Masquerade" to take place in a hall of mirrors. The greater stagecraft impresses, enlivening the opera underworld's haunting character and dazzling in the reflected images. Some enhanced pyrotechnics enthrall as well.
But the real changes affect our sympathy. Davis portrays the Phantom as unhinged from the start. Mackintosh removed the wedding dress waiting for Christine in the Phantom's lair, lending him a pitiable loneliness — as opposed to the predatory mentor of the original.
And it's here that Phantom indulges its enduring appeal. It aligns its ending with beauty and goodness, but one that includes sympathy, of Christine for the Phantom; of Raoul, who must forgive her, or of the ballet mistress, who pities a deformed child she once found. We and Webber both side with what's beautiful and good but commiserate with a wretchedness plagued by its own despair. And no new production could tamper with the universality of that theme.
The Phantom of the Opera. Through Nov. 12 at the Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St. Tickets start at $20. Information: 215-790-5883 or kimmelcenter.org