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BWW Reviews: PHANTOM Lifts the Spirits at Hale Centre Theatre

It's kind of gutsy to feature an alternative musical treatment of Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera when its iconic award-winning Andrew Lloyd Weber namesake is liable to overshadow any such effort, but that's what Hale Centre Theatre has done, and with great success, in its season opener, Phantom.

Directed by the estimable Cambrian James, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and book by Arthur Kopit, Phantom recounts the story of Erik, disfigured at birth and self-exiled in the catacombs of the Paris Opera House for his unnatural life with the saving grace, yes, of the music of the night. The light at the end of his tunnel shines with the arrival of Christine Daaé, the ingénue with the voice of an angel, discovered on the streets of Paris by Philippe, the Count of Chandon.

All hell breaks loose, however, when Christine's arrival coincides with the sale of the Opera House to Alain Cholet (Matthew Harris), the termination of the company's long-time manager Gerard Carriere (Hector Coris), and the ascendance of Cholet's wife, Carlotta, as the Opera's new star. The rest is the well-known tale of Erik the Phantom's sound and fury ~ a tale enhanced in its telling by some powerful performances.

The opening number evokes the Parisian streets of the 1870's and is enlivened with the stunning and colorful costumes designed by Mary Atkinson.

It is here among the swirling movements of vendors and gendarmes that we are introduced to the marvelous soprano voice of Annalise Webb, whose Christine is ever enchanting throughout the entire production. Webb is as fine and authentic an actress as she is a singer.

Bryan Stewart evokes Erik's anguish with every swish of his cape, although his halting movements and equally halting delivery threw me off a bit. Nevertheless, you can't help but feel his pain, and when he's in his high register, he's super.

Mary Jane McCloskey's turn as Carlotta, the self-possessed diva whose voice drives Erik to madness, is executed with perfection. Here is an actress and a vocalist who seizes her moments on the stage with conviction and aplomb.

Phantom is replete with touching and dramatic moments and revelations, none perhaps more poignant than in the telling of Erik's story. The love of a mother is blind to the defects of her child; she embraces him and teaches him to sing; she looks upon his face and sees beauty. Genesis Cuen, as Erik's aptly named mother Belladova, captures this devotion and grabs our hearts as well.

Phantom is a lighter and wittier version of the literary classic and thankfully a validation that there's more than one way to tell a great story. Given its history, Mr. Yeston may be right to proclaim Phantom as "the greatest hit never to be produced on Broadway."

Hale Theatre Centre has delivered a worthy treatment of the story. Performances continue through October 11th.

Photo credit: photo: Nick Woodward-Shaw

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From This Author Herbert Paine