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Musical Theatre Review

North Carolina Theatre: Luminous Performances by Michael Minarik and Rebecca Pitcher Make Yeston and Kopit's Operatic Phantom Sparkle

October 19, 2008 - Raleigh, NC:

Luminous performances by Michael Minarik as the Phantom who haunts the Paris Opera and Rebecca Pitcher as his protégé, Christine Daaé, help make North Carolina Theatre’s gala production of Yeston and Kopit’s Phantom sparkle, shimmer, and shine as bright as a Super Nova. Composer and lyricist Maury Yeston and librettist Arthur L. Kopit’s 1991 musical, subtitled “The American Musical Sensation,” is truly sensational and even operatic, whereas Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 London and 1988 Broadway hit, The Phantom of the Opera, has a lot in common with his previous rock operas.

This fabulous Phantom, which concludes NCT’s 2008 season, is a real musical extravaganza, with soaring sets from Theatre Under the Stars’ world-premiere production in Houston, Texas, and dazzling 19th century costumes from Malabar Limited of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The spectacular scenery and wardrobe combine with the effervescent staging of frequent NCT guest director Casey Hushion, the dynamic production numbers devised by choreographer Jennifer Werner, and the theatrical magic of technical director Bill Yates, Jr., lighting designer Craig Stelzenmuller, costumer Ann M. Bruskiewitz, and properties mistress Laurie Johnson to make this Phantom a feast for the eye.

The show’s only awkward moments come at the end — in the climactic showdown between the fleeing Phantom and his implacable pursuers — but that momentary awkwardness — which is as much the fault of the script as the staging — is quickly forgiven and forgotten, because of the overall strength of the NCT cast and the crew and production values comparable to a National Tour.

Musical director Edward G. Robinson and the energetic NCT orchestra also joined forces with sound designer Jonathan Parke to make the marvelous melodies in Yeston’s superlative score alternately thrill and chill the Sunday-matinee audience, which expressed its appreciation in a loud and lengthy standing ovation.

Director Casey Hushion and choreographer Jennifer Werner liven up this frisky Phantom with more than a little of the old razzle-dazzle, and the production also boasts a superb vocal ensemble and a host of charismatic characterizations, starting with Michael Minarik’s passionate performance in the title role and Rebecca Pitcher’s heart-tugging portrayal of Christine, the beautiful but untrained street singer whom Erik, the hideously deformed “Ghost of the Opera,” transforms into a true diva and with whom he falls completely, hopelessly in love.

Neal Benari is likewise terrific as Gérard Carrière, the abruptly dismissed long-time managing director of the Paris Opera (and the Phantom’s secret protector); and Tom Soubrada and especially Ellen Harvey give wonderfully wicked performances as this musical’s king and queen of mean, the opera’s new owners, the puffed-up Alain Cholet and his shrewish wife, the would-be diva La Carlotta, who has a voice that could curdle cream — not to mention infuriate an angry Phantom inhabiting the subterranean chambers of the Paris Opera.

Harvey’s antics as Carlotta steal many a scene; Jarrod Emick is also good as Christine’s wealthy number-one admirer, the handsome bon vivant champagne heir, Count Philippe de Chandon; and Rob Sheridan adds a pair of crisp cameos as the corrupt French Minister of Culture and the bluff Parisian Police Inspector Ledoux.

This week, the North Carolina Theatre will conclude its warmly applauded 2008 season with what can truly be called a “must-see musical.” Yeston and Kopit’s  Phantom will delight and amaze Triangle theatergoers, who are more familiar with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. Moreover, there are enough differences between this American Phantom and the British Phantom to provide some pleasant surprises. Don’t miss it.

For details on future performances, see the North Carolina Theatre's event listing in our theatre calendar.