Journey 115: Phantom of the Opera with Chris Mann – Front Row Seats

phantom of the opera chris mann

I have a long history with Phantom of the Opera. I was captivated by the story 11 years ago, when I had my first Phantom experience watching the film with Gerard Butler in the title role. I fell in love. Yeah…Butler is a Scottish actor that I adored watching in this spectacular movie. However, I fell in love with the tragic story of the Opera Ghost who lived in the bowels of the Paris Opera House. I lost count of the number of times I watched the film, and I was deeply impacted each time.

phantom of the opera dayan and megan

phantom of the opera ashley and nicole

I saw my first live performance a couple of years later, in Dallas, TX. The sets, the costumes, the familiar music and storyline, captured me once more. This afternoon was my fifth viewing of the Phantom of the Opera musical. However, several key differences were present today. Thanks to my niece Ashley and my sister Debbie, seven of us watched from front row seats in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. My sister Linda, niece Nicole, grandson Dayan and his friend, Megan, were present as well. I am utterly ruined for ever watching a play or musical again, from any other vantage point in the theater. To be able to see the facial expressions and the emotions that play across the performers’ faces so enhances the experience for me.

phantom of the opera mirror

And this was a fresh production of Phantom, with new designs by Paul Brown, new costumes by Maria Bjornson, amazing sets and staging by Laurence Connor and stellar choreography by Scott Ambler. I was absolutely undone by the incredible sets and staging. Genius is the word that came to mind as the stage magically shifted again and again. The freshness meant that as many times as I have seen this production, there was something new this afternoon, something unexpected, to grab my attention. Being on the front row brought interesting experiences as well. When the chandelier exploded at the end of Act 1, I was showered with “glass” (really clear gelatinous pieces of material that disintegrated quickly). The gun explosions and fireballs made me jump. And to my delight, two performers ended up standing next to me during the show. One leaned over and said, “Don’t encourage him,” as I, along with the rest of the audience, applauded and cheered for the humorous conclusion of a number on stage.

The man behind the voice and the mask of the Phantom is relatively new to this tour as well. Chris Mann has stepped into the role of the Phantom and claimed it as his own. I first heard Chris sing during the 2012 season of The Voice, where his rich, classical voice took him all the way to the finals. I voted for Chris, so impressed with his voice and his obvious talent. When I learned, after I had purchased tickets to this performance, that Chris was playing the Phantom, I was thrilled, and excited to see him in the much deserved role.

phantom of the opera statue

Chris brought a passion to Phantom that I have missed in the other productions I have seen. The Phantom is a beautiful, tortured soul. He hides his disfigured face by covering it with a mask, but he is gifted with a powerful, mesmerizing voice. His heart, twisted by hurt and rage against the world that shuns him, longs for connection, for love. He attaches that longing to Christine Daae, his young protégé, who in turn, loves Raoul the Vicomte de Chagny, who was once her childhood playmate. There is a love triangle. There is fear. There is blackmail and murder, angst and anger, desire and denial. This story demands deep passion, for that is what is at the heart of it.

Chris delivers perfectly…tapping into those mercurial emotions, allowing them to bring strength and power to his voice and his performance. The musical number, Point of No Return, was the best version I’ve seen, redolent with sensuality and dark desire. Christine was brilliantly portrayed as well, her entwined confusion and awakening sexuality played perfectly by Celia Hottenstein. Smoldering was the word that came to mind as I watched this scene. And then the plaintive plea, from the Phantom to Christine as he knelt before her…”Say you’ll stay with me…” From passion to anguish in a moment. My eyes filled with tears.

phantom of the opera Christine

This was, without a doubt, the best Phantom production that I have seen. The sets were a marvel. Every cast member was exceptional. I watched with a smile and shining eyes. I laughed. I applauded. I teared up at the end. My heart breaks over the Phantom who seeks beauty, seeks light, seeks love and yet, is denied. Just once, I’d love to see the man who hides in the shadows win Christine, over Raoul. That, however, is a different story. Well done, cast and crew of the Phantom of the Opera, on tour. Thank you for sharing your gifts, your voices. You made my heart soar.

phantom of the opera me debbie and linda

Day 179: Front Row Seats at Wicked


I love musicals. I’ve seen several live performances, in Dallas and Tulsa, including Phantom of the Opera, The Addams Family, Jekyll & Hyde and Wicked. Today, my sisters Linda and Debbie and my niece Ashley and I attended a matinee performance of Wicked at the Tulsa Performing Art Center. This was my fifth time to see this amazing musical, however, it was my first time to see it from a front row seat. Special thanks go to Ashley for securing such spectacular seats.

Wicked is the untold story behind the Wizard of Oz. Long before Dorothy showed up from Kansas, two girls meet in Oz and form an unlikely friendship. One is beautiful, popular, ambitious and blond. The other is intelligent, fiery, misunderstood and green. The story follows the girls through high school and beyond. The relationship that develops between these two girls and how Elphaba becomes the Wicked Witch of the West while the other becomes Glinda the Good makes for “the most complete….and completely satisfying musical….in a long time.” (USA Today)

The musical premiered on Broadway in 2003 and has had a continual run since. The original Broadway musical launched the careers of Idina Menzel, who played the green skinned Elphaba and Kristen Chenoweth, who played the perky Glinda. The success of the Broadway production spawned a North American Tour that has played for more than 2 million viewers. I have had the privilege of being one of those viewers.


The musical is the perfect blend of humor, drama, romance and angst. Cast members in this production include Gina Beck as Galinda/Glinda, Emma Hunton as Elphaba and Nick Adams as Fiyero. All had incredible voices. Gina captured Glinda’s bubbly blond personality while Emma’s powerful voice and expressive face brought depth to her portrayal of Elphaba. Nick was a handsome Fiyero with just the right amount of fun loving swagger and sensuality. Sitting in the front row was absolutely amazing. I could see every expression of the performers, which added considerably to the overall performance. When Elphaba sang, “I’m Not That Girl”, I could see tears glittering in her eyes.

Glinda, with her narcissism and use of made up words, contributes most of the humor to Wicked. She appears shallow and yet she genuinely comes to care for the green girl who has always considered herself an outsider. I love the scene with the song “Popular” in which Glinda endeavors to give Elphaba a makeover, attempting to ease the girl’s awkwardness and give her a measure of popularity. I can’t help but like Glinda. She sees the world simply and at heart, she is truly good.

But it is Elphaba whom I am drawn to. Her outward appearance frightens people and yet, she possesses a keen intelligence and a compassionate heart, and yes, a quick temper. She despises injustice and popularity is not important to her. My heart aches for her as she reaches out, tentatively, to connect with others. When her trust in the Wonderful Wizard of Oz is dashed, Elphaba embraces the wicked persona that everyone expects her to have. Her song, “Defying Gravity”, is the most powerful of the musical and the turning point in the story. Tears fill my eyes every time I hear it and see Elphaba’s transformation from misunderstood young woman to Wicked Witch of the West.

What a fun afternoon this was, watching Wicked and sharing time and space with my family. I never tire of doing either! Being so close to the stage allowed me to totally tune out the thousands of people in the audience and be immersed into the magic of the musical. I’m afraid the experience may have set a precedent for future musicals, as I would now like to see all of them from the vantage point of the first few rows. Ashley, work your magic, for Phantom of the Opera will return next April!


wicked 3e