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Durham Performing Arts Center’s Production of
The Phantom of the Opera
Is Truly Haunting

by Robert W. McDowell*

November 28, 2009, Durham, NC: The Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 London and 1988 Broadway mega-hit, is not the longest-running musical in the history of London’s West End and Broadway for nothing. Lloyd Webber’s pastiche of musical styles — rock-opera, faux-operatic, and traditional show tunes — creates some haunting melodies, and Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe’s expressive lyrics add a dash of humor to ease the rising tension in Stilgoe and Lloyd Webber’s riveting dramatization of French reporter and author Gaston Leroux’s Gothic horror novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra (1910).

In booking the current U.S. tour of Phantom for four weeks, ending Dec. 20th, the Durham Performing Arts Center gambled that this magnificent musical melodrama will prove as popular in the Bull City as it has in New York and London. (Its racked up more than 9,000 performances in each city.) Judging from the enthusiastic reception to the show last Saturday night, that’s a sure bet. This terrific touring version of Phantom, produced by Cameron Mackintosh and The Really Useful Theatre Company, Inc. and directed by Harold Prince, with musical staging and choreography by Gillian Lynne, boasts a stellar cast and outstanding production values designed by the West End and Broadway team of Maria Björnson (sets and costumes), Andrew Bridge (lighting), and Martin Levan (sound).

Don’t worry. This traveling production brings with it the famous giant chandelier that an irate Phantom hurls onto the stage of the Paris Opéra House and the Technicolor costumes of the macabre “Masquerade” ball — plus invigorating accompaniment of a full orchestra under the baton of musical director and conductor Jonathan Gorst.

In donning the famous silver half-mask worn with distinction in the West End and on Broadway by Michael Crawford, Tim Martin Gleason knows that he has some sizable boots to fill, and fill them he does. Gleason brings his own brand of panache to the title role of the unhinged musical genius who terrorizes the Opéra Populaire; and his vibrant vocals, especially his solo of “The Music of the Night,” are simply haunting.

Trista Moldovan is likewise splendid as the Phantom’s reluctant protégée, the talented but inexperienced Swedish soprano Christine Daaé, whom the “opera ghost” grooms for stardom. Sean MacLaughlin is dashing and in fine voice as Christine’s childhood sweetheart Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny. Indeed, MacLaughlin’s dreamy duet with Moldovan on “All I Ask of You” is positively heavenly.

Kim Stengel is a delight as the opera’s resident prima donna Carlotta Giudicelli, whose star in the operatic firmament wanes even as Christine’s waxes. And there is no bun big enough or enough mustard anywhere to cover the ham Ubaldo Piangi, the opera’s leading tenor and the roly-poly husband of La Carlotta. David Gaschen played Piangi with great relish on Saturday night in his final performance before Andrew Varela took over the role for the rest of the show’s run in Durham.

Nancy Hess added a chilly portrayal of Madame Giry, the opera’s stern ballet mistress and the Phantom’s choice to deliver his menacing messages to the company. Moreover, Hess’ icy demeanor as Madame Giry is reminiscent of Judith Anderson’s portrayal of the creepy Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film version of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

D.C. Anderson and Bruce Winant add crisp characterizations of Monsieurs André and Firmin, the fussy new managers of the Opéra Populaire, who defy the Phantom’s orders at their own peril; and Jessica Bishop contributes a memorable cameo as Christine’s fellow chorine and best friend Meg Giry.

Inspired staging by director Hal Prince and choreographer Gillian Lynne, exceptional production values, and incandescent performances by some of Broadway’s rising stars make the latest tour of The Phantom of the Opera a must-see musical. This superlative presentation will surely be one of the highlights of the 2009 Triangle theater season.

The Phantom of the Opera will resume its run on December 1st and continue Tuesday-Sunday until December 20th at the Durham Performing Arts Center. For details, see our Theater Calendar.

*Note: For a letter to the editor concerning this review, click here.

   
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