Theatre Review: ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

Quentin Oliver Lee and Eva Tavares in “The Phantom of the Opera.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Traveling Broadway productions can sometimes be hit-or-miss. These shows encompass a wide array of artists, technicians, sets, costumes, and props that have to be packed into semi-trucks and shuttled from city-to-city for months at a time. They have to be launched within a new theatre space every few weeks (which in and of itself is a huge undertaking), and the fatigue that artists understandably experience sometimes becomes evident on stage. I’ve seen some traveling Broadway productions that were exquisite, rivaling the quality and artistry of what you’d see on The Great White Way, and others that were sub-par and felt like an enormous waste of money. I’m happy to say that the production of “The Phantom of the Opera” currently running at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre squarely falls into the former category, as it was one of the most incredible nights I’ve ever had at the theatre.

. . .equal parts haunting, beautiful, sorrowful, and wildly entertaining.

Though Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical surely doesn’t need to be summarized, “The Phantom of the Opera” is the story of a young chorus girl Christine (Eva Tavares) – a talented singer at the Opera Populaire who captures the attention and the heart of The Phantom (Quentin Oliver Lee), or as the other Opera Populaire staff call him…The Opera Ghost. But he is no ghost – he is a disfigured musical genius who has hidden away for years to avoid the cruel stares of strangers. With the Phantom’s help, Christine becomes the venue’s leading lady, but tragedy awaits as the young soprano has fallen for the charms of handsome noble Viscount Raoul De Chagny (Jordan Craig), not realizing her Angel of Music (aka the Phantom) is deeply in love with her. Insane with jealousy and unable to see the object of his affection, and ultimately his obsession, in the arms of another man, The Phantom kidnaps Christine – unaware of the lengths Raoul is prepared to go to get her back.

The production value of this show was as good as I’ve ever seen, on-or-off Broadway. The lights, explosions, and pyrotechnics made the audience collectively gasp on more than one occasion, with the highlight being the moment when the chandelier—arguably the show’s most iconic piece of imagery—plummeted toward the audience only to stop at the last second, eliciting screams from everyone below. A state-of-the-art rotating set was used when switching between the Opera house and the sewer, where the Phantom lives. The opera scenes that begin and end the show (the show-within-a-show, if you will) were dazzling.

Phantom is a show that hinges on the strength of the orchestra, as it features iconic musical numbers driven by the folks in the pit. This production’s orchestra was astoundingly good, with the well-known organ numbers literally shaking the foundation of the theatre. It was all-encompassing and really really spooky.

And of course, enough good things cannot be said about the artists on stage. Quentin Oliver Lee was haunting as the Phantom, whose voice soared during “Music of the Night” and other big vocal numbers. He’s maybe the best actor to ever don the Phantom’s mask. Eva Tavares was equally magnificent as Christine, particularly in her duo on “The Point of No Return.” The large ensemble numbers, especially during the opera scenes, were gorgeous to see and hear.

“The Phantom of the Opera” is perhaps the most iconic and legendary piece of modern musical theatre, and there is no better production than the one currently running at Shea’s. It’s equal parts haunting, beautiful, sorrowful, and wildly entertaining. I wish I could relive the whole evening.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

“The Phantom of the Opera” is currently running at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre until May 6, 2018. For more information, click here.

First Look: ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre


Quentin Oliver Lee and Eva Tavares in “The Phantom of the Opera.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Celebrating it’s 30th year on Broadway, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” is a show that lives on throughout generations, by continuously being introduced to new audiences all the time. When a show has such a long lasting presence, you wonder if the momentum can withstand. Well, clearly it can. Especially five years ago when Cameron Mackintosh launched a new production of the show and sent it across North America. This will be the second time that this tour will visit Buffalo, featuring a brand new cast, and an orchestra of fifty-two musicians.

The story of the masked entity who haunts the Paris Opera House and serenades it’s new star is boasted as “the greatest love story of all time.” It has all the makings of a classic, and it is due to this tale and wonderful music that keeps the “Phantom” machine moving.

Cameron Mackintosh is a name that many theatre goers know because he has been responsible for countless hits on Broadway and in the West End. “Les Misérables,” “Miss Saigon,” “Cats,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” and “Mary Poppins,” just to name a few, are the powerhouse productions that have branded Mackintosh’s name.

“There is not one thing that goes up on stage that doesn’t have Cameron’s input in it,” says Seth Sklar-Heyn, executive producer to Mr. Mackintosh – or in other words his right hand man for all North American productions – and Associate Director of the “Phantom” Tour, “He is what we refer to as a creative producer.”

The brand that has become Mackintosh’s name is one of elegance and grandeur. When an audience comes to see a performance that has his name on it, there is an expectation, and that is where Sklar-Heyn comes in.

“In my daily job, I oversee the creation of the overall package of a show,” says Sklar-Heyn, “everything from how the publicity materials look, to how the tickets are sold, to the audience experience when they see one of our performances. We want to make sure that when an audience member sees a Cameron Mackintosh show, it is a fantastic, memorable experience.”

Branding is everything, especially when the brand is known for having high standards. “There is a certain expectation when you come to see a show with either Cameron’s name on it, or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s name,” says Sklar-Heyn, “and I make sure that our performances and shows live up to expectations.”

For ‘Phantom,” Sklar-Heyn is the associate director, a job that many people wouldn’t even know existed, if it wasn’t listed in the program. “Laurence Connor, directed the new envisioning of this show for the tour, and after the show opened, he moved on to another project. It is my job as associate director to witness the overall creative achievement of the production that Laurence set, and maintain that standard,” says Sklar-Heyn.

So, how exactly does one maintain the standard over a living breathing production that is never truly ‘set in stone’?

“I go to see the tour once every five to eight weeks, and I watch it with the audience, and I try to watch the show with a fresh set of eyes. If there is something that needs to be fixed, like a cue is off, a costume piece isn’t up to standards, or maybe there is something that needs to be fixed with the set, I work with the resident director who travels with the show, to fix it.”

Sklar-Heyn says that the true litmus test is seeing what the director created, and making sure that every performance after the show opens, lives up to that standard, or surpasses it. “With a show like “Phantom”, which is known by so many, there is a feeling of nostalgia that comes with it, and people expect it to live up to their memories from before.”

Sklar-Heyn says that “Phantom” is the Cadillac of Broadway tours. “This show travels across the country in twenty tractor-trailer trucks, where we are delivering scale equality of a Broadway production, and that is truly remarkable.”

This attention to detail does not go unnoticed. “We might only have one opportunity to leave a lasting impression,” says Sklar-Heyn, “and it is because of this attention to every detail that our audience comes back to us again and again.”

“The Phantom of the Opera” runs April 25 – May 6 at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.