By Jana Soeldner Danger
When the brand-new Broward Center for the Performing Arts opened its doors in 1991 with a lavish black-tie gala awash in Beluga caviar and expensive champagne, the production
onstage was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. With its plunging chandelier and haunting musical score, it
captured the hearts of the audience.
In November, a new Phantom will take the stage, polished and updated for 21st century audiences, at a time when the BCPA is showcasing a $58 million renovation of its own.
The new Phantom utilizes technology not available 23 years ago that allows for more exciting sound and lighting production and portrays characters more in sync with current psychological and cultural views. But don’t worry. The legendary chandelier and
beloved music remain.
“We’ve given it a more grounded, realistic approach,” said associate director Seth Sklar-Heyn. “But the production is just as big, if not bigger, than the earlier one. Phantom requires grandeur and spectacle, and we’re not losing any of the sweep of scale that people expect.”
The changes begin with the set. In the earlier production, during many scenes the stage was in almost total darkness. “The set design was a black void, with stylized pieces coming in and out,” Sklar-Heyn said. “We’ve moved away from that abstract, surreal world.”
Characters will also become more realistic. “In the original, the Phantom had unexplained, seemingly supernatural abilities,” Sklar-Heyn said. “In this version, he’s very human, a man living with a deformity and obsessed with a girl because the sound of her voice brings him pleasure, soothes him, and remedies some of his pain.”
Christine, the object of the Phantom’s obsession, plucked from the chorus line and pushed toward stardom, has also changed. She is more girl than woman. “We’ve brought down her age so she has a different vulnerability and different energy,” Sklar-Heyn said. “She’s less knowing. A young girl doesn’t come with the same expectations and experience as an older person, and she reacts differently to an older man who is trying to encourage her to experience life in a different way. He’s trying to teach her to see beauty in darkness.”
After a successful run in the UK, the show was completely recast with American actors for its U.S. tour. Character development is always driven somewhat by casting, Sklar-Heyn said. “You’ll have an idea about who a character is, and someone will come in and redefine it, or become a character you’ve not seen before.”
Kelley Shanley, president and CEO of the BCPA, finds it fitting that Phantom returns as the theater celebrates its current upgrade, which encompasses renovations to the existing structure, as well as the new Huizenga pavilion that features a restaurant, a ballroom, and an education center. “Phantom defined our opening when we first opened our doors back in 1991,” he said. “So many patrons share their stories and recollections of that magical run. A reimagined Phantom is the perfect way to introduce the new and reimagined Broward Center.”
Phantom of the Opera Will Run Nov. 19-30 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. For tickets, go to www.broadwayacrossamerica.com