Brent Barrett in Phantom -- The Las Vegas Spectacular
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Brent Barrett in Phantom -- The Las Vegas Spectacular
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
In trying to become the "entertainment capital of the world," Las Vegas has installed countless Cirque du Soleil shows and such marquee names as Elton John, Celine Dion, and Barry Manilow. But its attempt to become the Broadway of the West by opening musicals such as Mamma Mia!, Hairspray, and Avenue Q in its casinos has been far less successful, with only Mamma Mia! raking in the big bucks and the latter two shows having fled town after aborted runs.

With the opening of Phantom -- The Las Vegas Spectacular, the stakes have been raised even higher. This casino-friendly, 95-minute version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, the longest running show in Broadway history, is being presented in a $40 million, custom-built theater at the Venetian Hotel, created by design superstar David Rockwell. Moreover, much of the original production team, including director Harold Prince, has returned to work on the show. So, is it a sure bet for success? Though it has some definite flaws, I'd say go all in.

First things, first: The much-lauded chandelier is amazing. Even those who have seen the original production can't help but ooh and aah at the more elaborate, more active Vegas prop. Just to up the ante, while the dissected chandelier reclaims its former glory at the top of the show, the entire dilapidated auditorium converts into a golden opera house. (Insider's tip: For the best experience of the chandelier and the best view of the production, try to get tickets in the orchestra, section 2, rows N-T).

While there are enough fireworks, special effects, and stunts here to make the show suitable for spectacle-happy Vegas visitors, true Phantom fans will more than likely walk away a little annoyed by the nearly hour's worth of cuts. For the most part, they consist of brief lines within the libretto and scenes that added to the back story of the Phantom -- excisions which don't affect the overall plot of the show. Nonetheless, the story feels slightly rushed, and truly attentive audience members will realize that some of the lines that remain simply don't make sense anymore. The most unfortunate edits are in the sexy, compelling song "The Point of No Return," which has been cut almost in half.

Amazingly, even with all that has been removed, it sometimes feels like the production is trying to give us the classic Vegas 2-for-1 deal: "Come see Phantom and we'll throw in Sunset Blvd. for free!" Every gesture and emotion in the show is so overblown, exaggerated, and campy that Norma Desmond could stand center stage and fit right in.

Prince has double-cast three of the main roles -- The Phantom, Christine, and Carlotta -- with the rest of the hard-working ensemble scheduled to play all 10 shows. From a vocal standpoint, Brent Barrett is a wonderful Phantom, bringing some magic and romance back to the over-exposed "Music of the Night." He also gets to spend much of the show offstage while doubles and special effects represent the Phantom. Unfortunately, Barrett blows his few opportunities to physically embody the character by relying on the melodramatic gestures that were seemingly required of this cast. (Tony Award winner Anthony Crivello plays The Phantom at other performances.)

Meanwhile, Sierra Bogges' constantly whining Christine and Tim Martin Gleason's self-obsessed Raoul are perfect for each other. While the character of the diva Carlotta is meant to provide comic relief with her ridiculous behavior, Phantom veteran Elena Jeanne Batman makes her seem one of the more rational and realistic figures onstage. Conversely, Rebecca Spencer as Madame Giry -- a role that is normally the all-knowing calm in the storm of activity around her -- channels every diva in silent film history. With her right eyebrow raised to a point that's never more than half an inch from her hairline and a performance that would have made Cecil B. DeMille proud, she is forever waiting for her close-up.

If what you want is a little entertainment and amazement, Phantom -- The Las Vegas Spectacular is definitely a winner. But if you're a Phantom fan who's approaching double or triple digit viewings of this show, you might be better off at the roulette table.