I may have gone into this show with little knowledge of its plot, music, and characters, but I left with a new appreciation for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic.

I’m going to be honest: I knew next to nothing about “The Phantom of the Opera” when I sat down this past Saturday to watch the Azusa Pacific theater department’s production of the show. Reading a brief summary of the musical was all I did to prepare before watching this beloved classic, but I left with a newfound appreciation of the show.

“The Phantom of the Opera” enchants you from the very beginning. As the intense theme plays before the show’s start, anticipation builds. When the curtain finally opened, I was dazzled by the orchestra atop the stage. As the music came to a halt, the show began, plunging me into a world of emotive melodies and unexpected humor.

As one of only five universities in the nation to receive the rights for “The Phantom of the Opera,” APU’s theater department did not disappoint.

To start, the vocal performances of the entire cast were spectacular. Isabella Adad (Christine) and Emily Carman (Carlotta) were especially stunning. Adad showcased an impressive range and vocal clarity in songs like “Angel of Music” and “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.” Carman impressed me with each high note and held vibrato. I had chills throughout the night.

André J. Roy (Raoul) and the Phantom himself (Forrest Gorrell) also proved talented in their vocal abilities with strong performances in songs like “All I Ask of You” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” respectively.

Aside from vocal performances, the lead actors played their roles with gusto and spirit, taking the audience with them on each character’s emotional journey throughout the story. Gorrell’s portrayal of the Phantom was especially haunting. The makeup used to create his disfigured face was effective, well-executed, and believable.

Along with splendid performances from the cast all around, elements like costume design and lighting were also quite impressive. Costume designer Wendell Carmichael provided a nice balance of color and neutrals depending on the scene, and Gavan Wyrick (lighting designer) was able to create a proper mood shift with changes in lighting. I found myself most enchanted by the transition from white and yellow light to a blue-green light when the Phantom’s voice began speaking.

One scene that masterfully combined all these elements (and by far one of my favorite parts of the show) was the beginning of Act II: Masquerade! The drama, the colors, the costumes and the vocals were mesmerizing. When the actors left the stage to walk and sing among the audience, it provided an immersive experience unparalleled by any other song throughout the show. 

Masquerade, along with many other scenes, was vibrant and lively. For a show I expected to be dark, gloomy and serious, there was a surprising amount of color and humor throughout — an unexpected surprise. Two characters who provided much comical relief throughout the show were Monsieur André (Jack Sennett) and Monsieur Firmin (Jeremiah Speten). Each line delivered and silly face expressed caused a roar of laughter from the audience.

My only grievances with this show are the plot and the lack of articulation of some actors. Although I walked out of the building pleased with the performance, I had to ask a friend to explain the ending. If, like me, you have never seen “The Phantom of the Opera,” I recommend a quick read of the synopsis on Wikipedia to get you acquainted with the show before attending. I also recommend listening to the musical’s album (or at least a handful of songs) beforehand because there were several times I had trouble understanding the lyrics being sung, leaving me a bit lost at some points.

After seeing “The Phantom of the Opera,” I realized the show I once thought was niche has something for everyone: romance, mystery, humor, color and shine paired with darker elements. With its evocative storytelling, the show proves perfect for the Halloween season. Pair all this with a talented cast, a stunning set, excellent lighting and beautiful costume design and this show becomes a must-see.

Photo courtesy of APU Theater