BWW Reviews: Yeston and Kopit's PHANTOM Has Passion at Riverside Center


Let's consider the "other" PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

Filmmakers and stage adapters have been drawn to the 1910 Gaston Leroux novel The Phantom of the Opera since Lon Chaney first donned the mask for silent film audiences in 1925.

In 1983, playwright Arthur Kopit (INDIANS and WINGS) collaborated with composer-lyricist Maury Yeston (NINE, GRAND HOTEL) on their own version of the romantic mystery. They were preparing their show when British musical mogul Andrew Lloyd-Webber announced he would reunite with his EVITA director, Harold Prince, and producer Cameron Macintosh for a new musical based on the Leroux story. With three theatre giants coming together, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA rose to the top of the food chain and Kopit-Yeston's version descended into the catacombs for a few years, until it emerged in regional theatres starting in 1991. Twenty-one years later-without a Broadway production, mind you-PHANTOM has had an estimated 1,000 productions, and counting.

Kopit and Yeston's PHANTOM has now come to Fredericksburg's Riverside Center in a gorgeous production directed and choreographed by Broadway veteran Patti D'Beck. (She has been an associate choreographer, dance captain and actress for such shows as APPLAUSE, SEESAW, A CHORUS LINE, PIPPIN, and MY ONE AND ONLY, to name but a few.) D'Beck's eye for detail in the dances and book scenes are superb.

The director's collaborators Aaron P. Mastin (scenic design), Gaye Law (costumes), and Phil Carlucci (lighting) have spared no expense or innovation to give the show a suitably sumptuous look that befits the Belle Époque.

Yeston's rich score for PHANTOM is in the caring and capable hands of musical director Jason J. Michael and a talented cast of singers from the leads to the chorus.

The basic story is familiar to theatre-goers:  In the era before World War I, the Paris Opera House is haunted by stories of an ghost who has roamed The Shadows of the theatre for years. In Kopit's version, the story goes deeper into the origins of the Phantom, while retaining the atmosphere of mystery.

Egotistical diva Carlotta-Andrea Kahane-and her husband Cholet-Jason J. Michael-take over the opera as a vanity company for her own ambition, if not talent. Carlotta and Cholet dismiss the long-time manager Gerard Carriere-Robert Beard-and immediately make changes that bring the wrath of the Erik, the Phantom-Patrick A'Hearn.

Riverside's PHANTOMKahane plays Carlotta with just the right over-the-top zest. She is ably supported by Michael as Cholet. Beard brings a sense of dignity and a strong singing voice to his pivotal role as Carriere. As keeper of the Phantom's secrets, Carriere is an inventive addition to the story.

Parisian street-singer Christine Daaé-Quinn Vogt-Welch-is hired as a costume girl for Carlotta and is immediately noticed by the masked and reclusive Erik, who slowly reveals himself to her. She becomes his secret star pupil as he prepares Christine for a singing contest that could launch her career. She also catches the eye of the wealthy opera patron Count Phillipe-a well-sung portrayal by Nathaniel Austin Mason.

Christine becomes torn by loyalty to her masked teacher and her feelings for the count. Kopit's book is a nice balance between the tense love triangle and the Phantom's vengeful actions towards Carlotta. I won't reveal any more of the plot. Suffice it to say the audience is not short-changed by the conclusion of this PHANTOM.

Patrick A'Hearn brings a multitude of credits to the Riverside stage for his run as the Phantom, ranging from the original Broadway production of LES MISÉRABLES to national tours (CHICAGO, THE KING AND I, and both versions of PHANTOM), as well as Broadway pops concerts. From his first entrance, A'Hearn commands the stage while evoking Erik's pain and loneliness. He also has a voice that rings with beauty and authority. This is a role of a lifetime and Riverside audiences are lucky to have A'Hearn behind the mask. (Riverside is also blessed to have A'Hearn as associate artistic director.)

As his muse, Quinn Vogt-Welch is picture-perfect and pitch-perfect as Christine. Vogt-Welch opens the show with the lilting 'Melodie de Paris' and immediately wins the crowd onstage and in the audience. She has a warm stage presence and handles the vocal demands of the role with ease.

In a score filled with waltzes, ballads, charm songs and comic gems, the duet 'You Are Music' is outstanding. The song is a stunning showcase for Erik and Christine, especially as performed by Vogt-Welch and A'Hearn.

Riverside's PHANTOM has an old world, French flavor, and the cast performs the music with clarity and beauty. Even if you know the Lloyd-Webber score by heart, I think there is plenty of room for Yeston's swirling melodies and Kopit's superior story to lure you into the romance and intrigue of PHANTOM.

Riverside Center - Online - click here.

PHANTOM-by Arthur Kopit (book) and Maury Yeston (music and lyrics), through October 14, 2012, at Riverside Center and Dinner Theatre.  Performances: Wed. matinee, 1:30 p.m.; Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Seating for meal begins approximately 90 minutes earlier. Box office:  540.370.4300. Riverside Center - 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA.

(TOP) Patrick A'Hearn, as Erik, carries Quinn Vogt-Welch, as Christine, to the bowels of the Paris Opera House. (SIDE) Erik is confronted by former opera manager Carriere, played by Robert Beard. PHANTom Continues at the Riverside Center through October 14, 2012.

Photos courtesy of Riverside Center.



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