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April 24, 2014

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In closing, artistic greatness of ‘Phantom’ was not enough to staunch financial losses

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

The final performance of “Phantom — the Las Vegas Spectacular” at the Venetian on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012.

Final Bow of 'Phantom': 9/2/12

The final performance of Launch slideshow »
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The final performance of "Phantom -- the Las Vegas Spectacular" at the Venetian on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012. Anthony Crivello (The Phantom) is pictured here.

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The final performance of "Phantom -- the Las Vegas Spectacular" at the Venetian on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012. Kristi Holden (Christine Daae) is pictured here.

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The final performance of "Phantom -- the Las Vegas Spectacular" at the Venetian on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012. Andrew Ragone (Raoul) is pictured here.

Every moment and movement is magnified on closing night. The assembling of the chandelier from four pieces to one is more dramatic, boosted by the symphonic bellow emanating from the orchestra pit. The live music thundering from below seems a hair more amplified on the night “Phantom -- the Las Vegas Spectacular” closes at the Venetian.

The clumsy attempt by Piangi (portrayed for 6 ½ years by Larry Morbitt, who once sang with the Las Vegas Opera in the 1980s) to mount the wooden elephant in the opening scene is more pronounced on closing night. The pause when he spits out the show’s funniest single line -- “Amateurs!” -- lingers several seconds longer than usual, the audience’s laughter building in anticipation of Morbitt’s final delivery of that word.

The stirring embrace and kiss by Christine Daae (Kristi Holden) and Raoul (Andrew Ragone), too, seems to last from here to eternity, as if the stars refuse to let go. As you experience this show a final time Sunday night, you feel that some moments inevitably carry a deeper meaning than any other performance. The final dropping of the chandelier, a set piece that will remain in a fixed position in the $40 million theater, is greeted with delirium. As Anthony Crivello, playing the Phantom for a last time, growls at Christine, “Pity comes too late, turn around and face your fate!” you jerk back in your seat, knowing that the production of “Phantom” faces the same grim prognosis as its tormented lead character.

Cheers greet the famous staircase and costumed characters in the “Masquerade” scene. You remember that moment more than 6 years ago, at the production’s first performance, when those stairs became stuck and the act played mostly toward stage left. You remember, too, how terrific the other Phantom -- Brent Barrett – was in that lead role, alternating for a time with Crivello to provide Las Vegas audiences with two Broadway-caliber Phantoms in a single production.

It was an embarrassment of artistic riches for a show that also offered sophisticated pyrotechnics, a wonderful orchestra filled with the city’s best musicians, and some of the most ornate scenery and costumes ever designed for the Las Vegas stage.

The loss of “Phantom” will be felt outside the Venetian theater. Many of the show’s performers contributed consistently to the cultural scene in Las Vegas. Cast members regularly turned up at “Composer's Showcase” nights at various local haunts, beginning with Suede restaurant in 2006 and moving along to the Liberace Museum, Creative Studios, Garfield’s restaurant in Summerlin and, finally, Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. We got to know the lofty singer Kristen Hertzenberg (who alternated in the role of Christine) at one of these shows.

Tina Walsh, who played Madam Giry, has been a local performer since joining “Jubilee!” in the mid-1980s and whose performance career features stints in “EFX” at MGM Grand and “Mamma Mia!” at Mandalay Bay and as a regular at the Showcase. Cast members Bruce Ewing, Ted Keegan and Randal Keith trotted out their Phat Pack performance at one of these shows this spring, and the most recent Showcase on Aug. 8 served as a richly deserved send-off for the cast that was nearly as bittersweet as “Phantom’s” last show.

The closing of “Phantom” was particularly distressing in that the show hardly flagged artistically from its opening in June 2006. It was as good in its final performance as it was when it opened. Over the years, producers, cast members, musicians, stagehands and support staff performed financial gymnastics -- renegotiating contracts with three unions in the process -- to keep the show onstage without compromising the quality of the production.

That approach did ensure that the show would be great, but in the end it was not a financial success, even as lavishly praising reviews continued to pour in.

As the final notes played out Sunday and the spotlight fell off the white Phantom mask, the theater was filled with the sound of audience members sniffling and crying. Financial realities aside, the show had a great run, a great run, to borrow the dramatic repeat of that phrase used by director Hal Prince in his note to the cast as the show’s closing was announced.

“Phantom” was one of the city’s great productions and certainly among its most ambitious, a worldwide Broadway hit carefully tightened and aggressively augmented into a genuine Las Vegas spectacular.

The sadness is in its closing, and the sense that we might not see the likes of it again. Not at this level.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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