BWW Review: PHANTOM at Downtown Cabaret Theatre
On Friday, November 17, a packed house at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, CT was mesmerized by a stellar performance of PHANTOM, a musical based on the Gaston Leroux novel, The Phantom of the Opera, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and book by Arthur Kopit. Directed by Eli Newsom, the cast evokes emotions and draws the audience right into the story.
The set includes a chandelier on the ceiling, a spiral stairway, and multiple moveable parts that are maneuvered smoothly. A fog machine and various lighting effects enhance the scenes. Talented musicians led by Clay Zambo provide moving musical accompaniment during the songs, and well placed instrumental music during some of the dialogue.
Talented dancers appear during multiple scenes, with excellent choreography by Emily Frangipane, bringing appropriately placed lively and upbeat moments to an otherwise deep and serious dramatic show.
Max J. Swarner plays the lead role of the Phantom whose actual name is Erik. His voice is so strong and acting so convincing that the character completely comes alive, behind the mask he wears, selling every line and lyric.
Erik lives in the catacombs beneath the opera house, afraid to come out into a world of people who he does not believe would be able to accept or tolerate his face that is constantly behind a mask. He becomes a relatable character to all people who ever felt that anything unchangeable about their own physical appearance would be met with disdain by a harsh and judgmental world. Even to a greater degree, he could not even bring himself to look at his own face in reflections, an unfortunate reality that has adversely impacted many people in real life, leading to deep depression, eating disorders, expensive and unnecessary surgery, cutting, drug abuse, and even suicide. If you have ever felt ashamed, embarrassed, or uncomfortable showing your face in public, you will empathize with Erik's feelings and plight. While Erik establishes himself as a villain, early on, by murdering an innocent person, the audience finds themselves wanting to see the redemption of his character, hoping that the influence of love interest and central protagonist Christine will help change his heart.
Anna Fagan excels in the lead role of Christine, showcasing her acting and singing talent in this serious role, as the person whose stunning voice is brought to that next level under the teaching of the Phantom, whose face she does not know.
Max J. Swarner and Anna Fagan have excellent stage chemistry, and voices that combine together magnificently to create the intended haunting feel behind the music. Their duet, "You Are Music" is a powerful number that while musically brilliant also helps set a tone that suggests that both Erik and Christine are having a huge impact upon each other. The song is performed so convincingly that the audience can simultaneously experience the feelings of both Christine and Erik, while realizing that those emotions may signify danger for them both.
Perry Liu brings his top talent to the Downtown Cabaret stage again, this time in the role of Gerard, the ousted manager of the opera house. Gerard looks after Erik, but finds that role limited after Gerard has lost his job. Nevertheless, Gerard maintains an interest in Erik's well-being. Gerard eventually reveals more details about Erik's life, to Christine, in a powerful narration during a remarkably performed flashback scene, highlighted by the acting and singing of Olivia Grace Rivera who plays the role of Belladova, Erik's late mother.
As a child, Erik, demonstrated the Catholic practice of praying to God through the intercession of Mary. Not realizing that all prayers are answered, yet sometimes the answer is "no," because God has something better in store, Erik seems to lose faith, to the point where as an adult, he shows polytheism, referencing "the gods," and eventually claims to worship Christine, placing his eternal hope in a human being, a creation, rather than the Creator. Naturally, Erik's poor theological decision warps his understanding of right and wrong.
Carlotta is the wife of Cholet, the man who takes over Gerard's job as manager of the opera house. Talented actress Carly Callahan is excellent at deliberately portraying Carlotta in an off-putting bossy and self-aggrandizing manner. Carlotta's jealousy over Christine's voice leads her to scheming to giving Christine a lead role, only to sabotage Christine's performance, to make Christine look bad in front of a large crowd.
Carlotta's meddling in Christine's desired singing career leads to a confrontation between Carlotta and Erik. It is at this point that the audience must self-reflect as to how we would like to see this confrontation end, making sure we do not fall into the trap of wishing death upon a fellow human being, no matter how negatively we may have been made to feel towards that person. We must also be sure that we don't fall into the trap of downplaying or excusing despicable behavior from someone who we may have been made to view in a positive, sympathetic, or empathetic way. It presents a fascinating challenge to our own character, attitudes, and thoughts, while showing us how our own feelings towards right and wrong can potentially be temporarily swayed by emotion, if we are not vigilant.
How does that conflict between Carlotta and Erik actually end? Does Erik reveal his face to Christine? If he does reveal his face, how will Christine react? Why does Gerard care so much about Erik's well-bring? Will Christine and Erik end up together? Will Christine end up with Phillipe, an apparent womanizer who expresses his "love" towards Christine? Will Erik turn back to the God of his youth and experience true redemption? Will Christine play a role in such a conversion? Come see the show and find out! You will enjoy this superb performance of a wonderful show!
I highly recommend PHANTOM, which is scheduled to continue to run at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, in Bridgeport, CT, every Friday at 7:30 P.M., every Saturday at 5:00 P.M. and 8:15 P.M., and every Sunday at 6:00 P.M. through December 10, 2017. You can purchase tickets at http://dtcab.com/.