Wednesday, September 10, 2014

theatre review PHANTOM, Hale Centre Theatre, Sept. 4

Click here to read my Talkin' Broadway review of Phantom at Hale Centre Theatre.

Bryan Stewart and Annalise Webb
With fantastic leads, lush and gothic production elements, and sure-footed direction, Phantom, the Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit musicalized version of the classic novel "The Phantom of the Opera," is receiving an excellent production from the Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert. When talking about this musical you can't help but think about the story of David and Goliath. The Goliath in this case is the Andrew Lloyd Webber mega-musical version of the novel which, having opened in New York in 1988 and still going strong, is the longest running musical in Broadway history. While Yeston and Kopit were first to musicalize the 1910 Gaston Leroux tale, Lloyd Webber got his produced first, so Yeston and Kopit's version has had to take a backseat for over twenty-five years, while Lloyd Webber's has gone on to international acclaim.

Fortunately, composer Yeston and book writer Kopit's Phantomhas a lush score, a romantic center story, an in-depth backstory for the "Phantom" and theatre companies can easily license this version of the story. The Lloyd Webber version isn't available yet to be licensed except for school productions and pretty much lacks any backstory for the title character. And, while they won't ever be able to topple the Lloyd Weber behemoth, and will probably never make it to Broadway, Yeston and Kopit's version is continually produced across the country and is actually more interesting, with much more of a plot, than the Lloyd Webber musical.

Phantom follows the Leroux novel fairly closely, though there are some additions and eliminations, as in the Lloyd Webber version. Young, beautiful-voiced ingénue Christine Daaé, found singing on the streets of Paris, is sent to the Opera House for singing lessons by one of their biggest supporters. A strange man named Erik hears Christine sing and offers to teach her in order to provide him, and the world, with "beautiful music." Unbeknownst to Christine, Erik, who was disfigured at birth and wears a mask to cover his face, has been living in the catacombs underneath the Paris Opera House. Many people believe the Opera House is haunted by a "ghost" due to the antics Erik gets up to and the sounds they hear coming from beneath. The Opera's manager Gérard Carrière has just been ousted by new owner Alain Cholet who plans to have his wife Carlotta be the new star. Erik isn't too keen on that idea, especially since Carlotta has a horrible voice, and he wreaks havoc on the new owners and anyone who gets in his way of making Christine the Opera's star.

Hale Center favorite Cambrian James is proving to be a "David" of his own in finding a way to tackle directing and choreographing this fairly elaborate "Goliath" of a show for Hale's "in the round" stage. He has also found a perfect cast to bring the show to life. Bryan Stewart and Annalise Webb give thoughtful, assured performances as the Phantom and Christine. While Webb's performance might have more layers, mainly due to the part of Christine having more of a character arc, Stewart easily manages to show us the anguish and frustration of the masked man who is trying to do good, which can't be easy to do, considering his facial expressions are always hidden under a mask. Stewart's ability to show the love that Erik has for Christine is also quite effective. Their voices soar at every opportunity with richness and focus, and their chemistry and scenes together are emotional and moving. Their duets of "Home" and "You Are Music" are especially poignant. Webb holds an ASU Master's Degree in Opera Performance/Musical Theatre and her voice easily moves between the two musical styles in this show with so much elegance and strength that I can imagine a huge future for her.

Matt Harris and Mary Jane McCloskey
 Hector Coris provides a rich depth to his portrayal of the former Opera manager Carrière and, like Stewart, adds a realistic amount of suffering and sorrow to the man we learn has been protecting the Phantom. The duet they share in the second act is moving and touching, with an emotional resonance, and when Coris narrates the flashback sequence showing how Erik came to be disfigured, his line delivery is superb and full of passion. Matt Harris and Mary Jane McCloskey easily make Cholet and his wife Carlotta the villains of the piece, but with humorous tones, which adds a nice change from the more serious nature of the Phantom and Christine scenes. Harris has played many varied parts across the Valley this season and this is yet another fine performance from him. McCloskey has also been in several other shows this season, yet this role really allows her voice and comic abilities to shine, with her solo "This Place is Mine" perfectly delivered. In the flashback sequence, Genesis M. Cuen is quite moving as Erik's mother.

Bryan Stewart and Hector Coris
With swiftly moving scene changes, director James keeps the show moving briskly, using every possible entrance and exit into the theatre to create multiple playing areas. Hale's shows always have top-notch creative elements and their Phantom doesn't disappoint in those areas. Lincoln Wright's music direction provides perfectly blended voices that sound excellent with the superb, lush orchestral arrangements. Mary Atkinson's vibrant and detailed costumes are abundant and varied. Adam DeVaney and Brian Daily have crafted a set design that is quite effective in creating the many locations of the musical, especially considering that there aren't really any major set pieces. The boat for the Phantom to take Christine to his underground lair is especially impressive. Jeff A. Davis' lighting uses shadows and darkness that, when combined with the fog effects, create some spectacular images.

More light and comical than the Andrew Lloyd Webber version, and with a more traditional musical theatre score, Phantom has many positive things going for it, including an in-depth story as to how the Phantom came to be living under the Opera House. And while it may not have songs reminiscent of Lloyd Webber's memorable, soaring melodies, it still has many likeable tunes, strong, memorable characters and an emotional richness to the story. With an excellent cast, wonderful creative touches and superb direction, the Hale Centre Theatre production of Phantom is very impressive.
The Hale Centre Theatre production of Phantom runs through October 11th, 2014, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling (480) 497-1181.

Photos: Nick Woodward- Shaw /Hale Centre Theatre
Bryan Stewart and Annalise Webb

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