As Synetic Theater races through its rowdy teenage years (not quite 20, yet), they have earned a reputation for finely-honed narrative dance, brilliant original music, and spectacular visual effects. For their current production Paata Tsikurishvili, Synetic’s founding Artistic Director, puts his unique stamp on Gaston Leroux’s classic novel, Phantom of the Opera. Sparingly adapted by Nathan Weinberger, it features the dark brilliance of Irina Tsikurishvili, who both choreographs and stars in this truly gothic tale.
Given Synetic’s tradition of storytelling without words, it’s natural that the story shifts from grand opera to the corps-de-ballet. The opening scene shows us the Phantom in her early years as prima ballerina at Paris’ famous Palais Garnier (whose dome is vividly projected onto the upstage screen). Horribly disfigured in a fire that engulfs the theatre, the Phantom (with the trademark half-mask) returns to the site of her former triumphs to discover a promising young dancer, Christine, whom she adopts as a protégé. And in a sequence of pas-de-deux, a relationship develops between the two that is as romantic as it is professional.
Lottie Guidi makes a fine debut in the role of the Young Phantom, whose presence continues to haunt and mirror her older self throughout the story. Some of the more touching sequences here involve Tsikurishvili and Guidi acknowledging each other, one dealing with the monster she has become, the other with the star she once was. Maryam Najafzada offers us an innocent Christine, a dancer who is talented but not yet artistically mature, and she draws all eyes to her as the Phantom refines her technique.
Competing for Christine’s heart is Raoul, danced by Jacob Thompson. From his first klutzy entrance, Thompson proves he is as adept at comic pratfalls as he is at charming the whole house. Rachael Small, meanwhile, plays Carlotta, the competition, whose fate is spectacularly sealed by the Phantom.
If you’re wondering whether Synetic is up to the challenge of dropping chandeliers on their company’s heads, rest assured that between Patrick W. Lord’s brilliant projection design and Brian S. Allard’s intricate lighting, Carlotta’s demise is thrilling to watch. And Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s music—featuring everything from techno to Chopin and Stravinsky—flows effortlessly, guiding the Phantom’s story to its inevitable conclusion.
Daniel Pinha’s set consists chiefly of movable staircases and archways, one minute evoking the velvet-and-gold grandeur of the Paris Opera, and the next descending to the depths of the Phantom’s lair. Erik Teague’s costumes run the gamut from tulle and rubies to solemn black, with Irina Tsikurishvili’s sleek, discreetly-sequined black outfit especially eye-catching.
This being a full-length show, it can be a challenge for newcomers (and younger audiences) to maintain their focus; for the most part, Paata Tsukurishvili devotes the action to the narrative, and this production is at its strongest when the flow of the story is allowed to play through.
There are scenes, however, which seem to get lost in repetition, taking an established mood or action and stretching it out longer than necessary. It’s true that the company is known among its biggest fans for “the fractured chaos of Synetic technique,” but there has always been a natural tension between pure technique and narrative in their work. Thankfully, narrative wins out here and this Phantom of the Opera is a truly rewarding re-setting of this famous tale.
Running Time: 2 hours, with one intermission.
Mon Charmin, Delbis Carmona; Ensemble, Eliza Smith, Julia Holland, Janine Baumgardner, Thomas Beheler, Scean Aaron, Joshua Cole Lucas
Associate Director, Katherine Dubois Maguire; Props Design, Kelli Leann Jones; Production Manager, Raymond Simeon; Technical Director, Phil Charlwood; Audio Engineer, Thomas Sowers; Master Electrician, Alex F. Keen; Stage Manager, Jessica Lucey