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Theater review: Plenty of heart in this ‘Phantom’
BY GAIL CHOOCHAN
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Andrew Lloyd Webber may have a stronghold on Broadway with his “Phantom of the Opera” musical, but other versions lurking in the shadows may be just as powerful.
“Phantom,” now onstage in a fantastic production at Riverside Dinner Theater, tells a slightly different story. Like Webber’s tale, “Phantom” is a based on the 1911 Gaston Leroux novel, but Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s take gives more depth to our disfigured title character. Viewers will see more of the Phantom’s back story and how he came to be this misunderstood man.
In a casting coup, Riverside has plucked its associate artistic director Patrick A’Hearn for Erik, the Phantom. And boy, are audiences in for a musical treat.
Growing up in the dark and lonely catacombs, the “ghost” of the Paris Opera House has little exposure to a normal life. A’Hearn delivers an animated performance, sticking close to the Phantom’s wildly changing emotions. Erik can be caring, protective and kinda funny, but he can also be extremely petulant, obsessive and, of course, a bit murderous. It’s fair to say he has awkward social skills.
This production would not work without a singer who can hold up against the Phantom, especially one who has a voice bigger than Fredericksburg. New York actress Quinn Vogt–Welch, as Christine, beautifully complements A’Hearn’s vocals. (Take note of their moving rendition of “Home.”) When these two are singing onstage, it’s like witnessing a performance more akin to a Broadway show. Trust me, they’re just that good.
Several relationships are at play in “Phantom” besides the central one between Erik and his pupil.
The bond between Erik and the ousted opera manager Gerard Carriere, is also very important. Robert Beard is wonderful as Carriere, who shows an unwavering loyalty to the Phantom. The actor brings a warmth that is crucial in understanding his character and his motivations.
There’s also the story between Christine and another man aiming for her heart. Here, Christine’s love interest is not Raoul but Philippe, the pretty-boy heir to a champagne fortune. The Count De Chandon is responsible for sending her to the Opera House, after spotting the beautiful country girl singing on the streets of Paris. They share a few sweet moments, such as in the airy number “Who Could Ever Have Dreamed Up You?” but it’s obvious in this story, her connection to the masked one runs much deeper. (It doesn’t help that Philippe’s character comes off a tad one-dimensional.) Out of all the songs, this one feels a bit out of place—with a more Rodgers and Hammerstein vibe—but still quite enjoyable. The rest of the songs tend to be more light-opera fare.
Bringing humor to this tragic tale is Cholet, the new opera house manager, and his diva wife, Carlotta, who offer several entertaining bits through out the production. (“I think her voice is worse than my face,” Erik remarks to Carriere. See, funny.) Carlotta is played wonderfully over-the-top by Andrea Kahane, who also seems to be one of the few performers attempting an accent in this show.
The rest of the cast offer varying levels of talent, but their energy is boundless. The big ensemble numbers, with all the different and colorful costume looks, are a delight to watch. And the artistic team does a nice job dreaming up these lovely pictures of Paris. One gorgeous choreographed scene shows dancers and opera patrons weaving together, while bathed in shades of red and blue lights, at the Opera House as that infamous chandelier looms in the background. Don’t worry, there will be a big chandelier moment.
It’s easy to see why Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” is such a fan favorite, but this “Phantom,” with its equally heartfelt story, is definitely worth a look.
Where:Riverside Dinner Theater, 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg
When:Wednesdays–Sundays through Oct. 14. Wednesday matinee at 1:30 p.m., arrive 11:30 a.m. to noon; Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., arrive 6–6:15 p.m.; Sunday matinee at 3 p.m., arrive 1–1:15 p.m.
Info: 540/370-4300; riversidedt.com