The world’s most celebrated musical now has a home in the millennium’s self-proclaimed entertainment capital of the world.  The Phantom of the Opera has grossed more than $3 billion worldwide since its London premiere in 1986, having played more than 65,000 performances in 20 countries and sweeping the 1988 Tonys to win seven awards, including Best Musical.  In January of 2006, Phantom became the longest–running show in Broadway history, even surpassing the same phenomenally successful composer’s infamously sappy dancing felines.

Bringing Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom to Las Vegas as a permanent attraction at the Venetian Hotel has to one of the town’s most inspired decisions, coming to glorious new life in its own custom-built $40 million theatre designed to resemble the famed Opera Garnier in Paris and boosting a one-ton sputtering chandelier engineered to break apart in five separate pieces—surely offering the fastest, scariest, themepark-iest, most spectacular crash in Phantom history.  As Sir Andrew himself commented about his most recognized career achievement making a home in Sin City, “It’s a rare opportunity we have to utilize all of the theatrical advancements of the last 20 years and create an environment that is singularly unique to Phantom but, in the end, it is always the… universal theme of love and love lost that stays with the audience.”

Unlike the doomed productions of Hairspray at the Luxor, Avenue Q at the Wynn, and We Will Rock You at Paris, for some reason Vegas has proven itself the perfect permanent home for Mamma Mia, still holding secure court at Mandalay Bay, and without a doubt Phantom is yet another successful transfer.  Perhaps it’s the incredible special effects already associated of this production that makes it unfold so seamlessly at the Venetian, where obviously no expense was spared to make it suitably ostentatious, or perhaps it’s the state-of-the-art sound and heightened volume level of the music (to me, the main reason Mamma Mia continues to fill Vegas houses) that keeps the attention of those dazzled touristas still firmly grasping foot-long margaritas in one hand and hot little casino chips in the other.  Simply, nowhere has Phantom worked as well as it does here. 

When this show makes it regular touring descent for the 1,123rd time on Los Angeles, it’s one invitation I don’t even consider accepting, as I’ve seen Phantom so many times I’m more than a tad tired of it.  Ironically in Vegas it was new and fresh for me, something I quite honestly didn’t expect.  Though nothing new has been added to the original staging and the production still includes the precision directorial guidance of the legendary Harold Prince, the costumes seem grander and sparklier, the elephant brighter and more fluid in motion, the stage more massive (and higher) than ever before and, of course, the auditorium itself is the most elaborate art nouveau palace fashioned for any Opera Ghost to approve.

The show has been trimmed to a Vegas-y intermissionless 95 minutes in length without losing one song, something that’s also a plus in a Ted Turner sort of way, and although some of the large ensemble seemed a little weary and remotely controlled at the second showing at 10pm on a Tuesday night, they’re without a doubt a precision veteran musical theatre cast (including the always dependable and gifted LA-based Doug Carfrae as Monsieur Lefevre).  The incredibly demanding leading roles are wisely double-cast to avoid what is actually called “Vegas throat”—meaning the dry desert weather and the nighttime work schedule, coupled with the reality of doing 10 or 12 shows a week, could have taken the Mamma Rose out of Merman herself. 

Brent Barrett, who won the LADCC Award in LA as Billy Flynn in the last incarnation of Chicago at the Ahmanson, is a dynamic Phantom, although I wish I had been able to also see his counterpart, that amazing LA musical theatre star Anthony Crivello (who received the Tony as Valentine in Kiss of the Spider Woman), appear behind the mask.  Tim Martin Gleason is the quintessentially dashing Raoul vying for the love of the lovely Christine Daae and, as that lusted after operatic Peggy Sawyer of an earlier era, Elizabeth Loyacano (who alternates as Christine with Sierra Boggess) was in fine voice late that weekday night, even in that one much anticipated ultra-high note.  Danielle White, understudy for both actresses who usually appear as the diva Carlotta, also immediately proved herself to be a stellar asset to this production, as are Rebecca Spencer as the ominous ballet mistress and O.G. confidante Madame Giry and Brianne Kelly Morgan as her sweetly earnest ballerina daughter Meg. 

Not only does this production dazzle like new, for the first time the environmental proscenium always smartly identifying Phantom has been enhanced for Vegas.  As the audience files into the 1,800-seat theatre, not only is the onstage chandelier draped for the auction that opens the show, the entire house is.  As the strident organ music that concludes that bone-chilling first scene swells dramatically, the gossamer covers vanish gracefully into the pit and the sides of the auditorium are revealed to house elaborate multi-leveled opera boxes from the front to the back, complete with lit glowing faux kerosene-lit sconces between each of them.  In these boxes, mannequins of every size and age and shape watch the onstage action clothed in elaborate period eveningwear.  This must be an eerie place to be stuck in alone during the day waiting for rehearsal to begin.

Perhaps the only downside to the advent of this aptly dubbed Phantom: the Las Vegas Spectacular is that it stands in place that once housed the Venetian’s former Guggenheim Museum, where, over the years since the hotel opened in 1999, some of the most memorable touring art exhibits west of the Chicago Art Institute have been mounted—not to mention a dynamic showing of vintage motorcycles.  If there’s one thing Vegas doesn’t seem to have available as it prospers and grows, it’s a historical preservation society; guess the hotel magnates, construction companies, and crane operators see to that.  Let’s hope the spirit of ol’ Solomon R. Guggenheim won’t start swinging from the opera house’s highest hydraulically controlled gilt ornamentation at Phantom’s permanent home at the Venetian—or is that maybe just the next step in the continuously surprising history of the Las Vegas Strip?  Bet a good Vegas-esque haunting to promote would sell a lot of tickets.

The Venetian Resort Hotel & Casino is located at 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas; for tickets, call (702) 414-7469.


TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com