Stories & Cast Interviews

Friday, October 19, 2007

'Phantom' returns to an old haunt

Posted by: WBT on Friday, October 19, 2007 at 5:14:00 pm Comments (0)

'Phantom' returns to an old haunt By PETER D. KRAMER, THE JOURNAL NEWS

 "Phantom" - the Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit musical of Gaston Leroux's novel "The Phantom of the Opera" - makes a magical return to Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford. This is not Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera," the longest-running musical in Broadway history. This one is better.

It's not sung-through light opera. It's a traditional big-book musical, with scenes - written by Arthur Kopit - that take you deeper into the story and flesh out why a masked man would live in torment in a tomb beneath the Paris Opera House. Having seen "Phantom," you've been somewhere, and that somewhere is undoubtedly Paris. Maury Yeston's music is instantly evocative of a place, with an accordion setting the mood in the charmingly simple opening number, "Melodie de Paris." It might remind you of Alan Menken's opening song in "Beauty and the Beast" - clean, simple and bright.

This phantom is a man, not a ghost. In Lloyd Webber, the phantom is on stage for 19 minutes over the course of a nearly three-hour musical. "Phantom" clocks in at three hours, with an intermission, but in Yeston and Kopit's version, the audience gets to know and understand the man behind the mask. And Yeston's songs soar.

This phantom has a sense of humor. When he hears the diva Carlotta sing, he remarks: "Her voice is worse than my face." This phantom doesn't have all the answers, asking at one point: "What am I to do?" His obsession, the newly arrived soprano Christine Daee, shows up as if in answer to a prayer, just after he's wondered aloud - in the propulsive, searching song "Where in the World" - if such a heavenly voice exists. Yes, it does, and it belongs to a magnificent Kate Rockwell, whose remarkable vocal range is equaled only by her ability to breathe life into a farm girl who arrives in Paris with a song in her heart. Rockwell is a first-rate actress. One of the finalists on the televised casting call known as "Grease: You're the One That I Want," Rockwell proves that her considerable talents would have been wasted if she had been singing "Hopelessly Devoted to You" eight shows a week in "Grease" on Broadway. If her TV fans show up just to see Rockwell, they'll come back again and again to see her and co-star Aaron Ramey. Acting behind a mask - actually, several masks, designed by Bill Diamond, which he changes to suit the phantom's mood - Ramey delivers a fully realized character, a man we grow to understand, pity and, possibly, admire. Ramey's voice is at turns powerful and tremulous. He finds the nuance that some might find lacking in the Broadway phantom. In his heart-rending and plaintive solo "Christine," Ramey is vengeful, vulnerable and an object of pity. His command for the role is complete, down to his cape-twirling exits.

Yeston's lyrics set this "Phantom" apart, revealing character in a line or two. When we meet the preening Carlotta - played to perfection by the hilarious Sandy Rosenberg - she bemoans her lot in life: "A diva's work is never done. No relief. No time for fun." But this Carlotta is not to be trifled with or dismissed as just a silly eye-rolling soprano. There is evil there, as she manipulates all around her. She's a stronger character, more formidable than on Broadway. Also notable is the major character of Gerard Carriere, played nimbly by James Van Treuren. Carriere, the phantom's sole protector, is a man of mystery, too, and provides a compelling story thread. This phantom also has a name: He's Erik.
While Act 1 is brimming with song, the second act turns to the book, the story of how the phantom came to be who he is. "The Story of Erik," an extended Act 2 flashback, is a masterful piece of storytelling, a swirling tapestry of music and words that even includes an "Ave Maria." It is the grandest music of the night, Yeston at the top of his powers, and it is something to experience. Still, there were a couple of opening-night moments that kept the evening from perfection. Act 2 began inauspiciously. As the phantom secreted Christine off to his lagoon-side lair deep below the opera house, his boat conked out and Ramey had to literally rock it into its upstage berth, aided by a stagehand who came to the rescue. In the long Act 2 book scenes, Yeston uses an underscore - notes and chords used to punctuate the dialogue - that becomes monotonous and distracting. These musical jottings are unnecessary: The audience needs no reminder that they're watching a musical. Yeston, who understands fully when a song is needed, should have had the confidence to know when music is not required.

The set, by George Puello and Steven Loftus, includes a catwalk above the stage, and, of course, the chandelier which makes its fateful fall here, too. Puello and Loftus create an underground lair that is ornate and creepy and the fog effects are well controlled, heightening the gloom of things below. Gail Baldoni's costumes are a fine assortment of first-night-opera-goer garb - capes and top hats - operatic finery and gendarmerie that set the scene as immediately as does the music.

Director Tom Polum, who was in the ensemble in the first WBT "Phantom" production in 1992 - it ran for an unheard-of nine months at the dinner theater - also directed a 1996 revival. He is a master at creating stage pictures, moments that stay with you. None is as memorable as the final image of love and loss, a picture that could have lasted just a bit longer. In the hopeful Act 1 song, "Home," Christine sings "If I sing with all my heart, I'll be home." Welcome to your new home, Kate Rockwell and Aaron Ramey. And welcome back, "Phantom."

Forever Phantom: Charismatic Phantom, Incandescent Christine Light Up Night

Posted by: WBT on Friday, October 19, 2007 at 5:05:00 pm Comments (0)

 Photo/John Vecchiola,

WBT WPCNR CENTERSTAGE. Review by John F. Bailey . October 11, 2007:

The first time you hear Kate Rockwell’s shimmering and haunting voice as Christine Daee, you are enchanted. Your first sight of Aaron Ramey as Westchester Broadway Theatre’s new Phantom of the Opera commands you with his magnetism, machismo and tortured soul. Together their romantic chemistry deliver an emotional Phantom that never lets go of your heart and builds to an emotionally draining climax you will not soon forget. It was a Phantom Night! Driving rain. Lightning in the sky, fitting for a return of the Phantom to the Westchester Broadway Theater. Tonight the lightning was on stage! Full Story

Killer Plant Speaks!

Posted by: WBT on Friday, October 19, 2007 at 4:05:00 pm Comments (0)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Audrey ...lovely Audrey

Posted by: WBT on Friday, October 12, 2007 at 9:04:00 pm Comments (0)

Julie Connors as Audrey in Little Shop Of Horrors.

I grew up first in San Jose, CA (thru 8th grade), and then Turlock, CA, where I went to high school.  So I am a (Northern) 'California Girl'!   I started out as a dancer.  First with tap, starting in 2nd grade.  By junior high, I was in jazz class, and by high school, was studying ballet.  I taught tap and ballet to youngsters when I was a senior in high school.  I danced at the Atlas School of Dance in San Jose, and the Backstage Academy of Dance in Turlock, CA.

I always enjoyed singing.  I attended St. Christopher School, a Catholic School, in San Jose, for first thru eighth grade.  Starting in the fourth grade I sang in the church choir.  I got a lot out of this experience and between the dancing and singing, naturally fell into the musical theatre.  I did my first musical at Turlock High School when I was in the tenth grade.  THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT, THE SMELL OF THE CROWD.  I was a member of the ensemble.  When one of the cast members who had a featured role of "The Girl" came down with the chicken pox, I took over her role the opening weekend and even received a positive review in the local paper.  From that time on, I had officially caught the theatre bug...even if I didn't yet know it. :)
The late Cathy Wydner was a positive role model for me.  Cathy played Peggy Sawyer in the National Tour of 42ND STREET and many regional productions in the Southern California area afterwards.  I got my AEA card by performing in a production of this show in which Cathy was playing Peggy.  I deeply admired Cathy's immense singing, dancing, and acting talents.  Peggy Sawyer had always been a dream role of mine.  Ever since I had seen the National Touring production of 42ND STREET at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco, around the time of my eighth-grade graduation.  Turns out I had seen Cathy in this role.  Amazing.  More importantly, Cathy was an incredible individual.  She was warm and friendly, complimentary, and encouraging.  I ended up playing the role of Peggy in 42ND STREET at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse in Auburn, NY many years later.  I felt like I had learned how to do that role successfully by learning from the best.  I even got to wear the "Peggy" costumes from the most recent National Touring Co.  It was a dream come true.
 Another favorite show is LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.  Audrey was a dream role!   I also love MY FAIR LADY.  And GYPSY.  I have performed in both shows.  Just love both of those shows' scores.  Have played Dainty June (long ago; it was the first role that I performed in a professional production!).  I think that someday I'd like to play Mama Rose.  ANYTHING GOES is also a fantastic show, with wonderful music.  I loved playing the sassy gun moll, Erma.  But someday I'd like to play Reno Sweeney.  Would love to sing that role.  CABARET is also an all-time fave.  Just LOVE Liza!  The film is the perfect movie musical.  How thrilled was I when Liza came to our last performance of LITTLE SHOP at WBT?  And she came backstage after the show!  Pretty awesome.  I saw the Broadway revival of CABARET five times.  That's a record.  Sally Bowles is definitely a dream role.  Liza definitely the inspiration.  I think it is her greatest performance.  She's an icon.  One of the last "real" musical theatre stars.  If I were to play Sally, it would have to be pretty soon!
I loved watching the film of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.  Ellen Greene is a phenomenon.  But I couldn't study her performance before creating mine.  We are so different!  I'm glad I "did my own thing". :)
My favorite moment in the show was singing "Suddenly, Seymour".  For the high-powered singing plus the emotional investment.  Talk about a theatrical high!  
I just had a baby on November 1, 2008!  Adrienne Nicole Grunspan.  She is already the love of my life.  I know she will react positively to my being on stage.  When I get back on one!  For now, I am happy to take care of this precious little miracle.   
I love to EAT.  And I love to TRAVEL.  I love to travel to different countries and EAT their food!  My husband and I took a trip to Poland this past summer.  I was about 5 1/2 months pregnant.  I had a fantastic time eating.  Enjoyed some kielbasa and pierogis-to-die-for, for sure, and other delicious traditional polish cuisine.  I like to stay in shape by way of dance class and jogging.  Actually, I do not enjoy jogging.  I guess I enjoy the way I feel AFTER I jog...good about myself and energetic!  I enjoy good conversation.  A good conversation with a family member or friend really makes my whole day.  I enjoy going to the movies and the theatre, of course!  I love documentary films, independent, foreign, drama, comedy, even action/adventure, and animated films, on occasion.  In fact, I take my movie-going/movie-watching fairly seriously!  And I like to cook and bake.  Just made a delicious Christmas dinner for five.  Yum!  Oh, I mustn't leave out my "guilty pleasures"...reality TV in the form of lots of Bravo TV:  Project Runway, Top Chef, and Top Design.  Also addicted to "So You Think You Can Dance?".  Next season I am starting an internet pool to predict the winner among my family and friends, LOL.  Oh, and I can't leave out "The Office".  Have watched every single second of every single season of that show.  Never laughed so hard in my life.  

I have lots of favorite musicals!  MISS SAIGON, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, CHESS, COPACABANA, MY FAIR LADY, WICKED, THE LAST FIVE YEARS, CABARET.  also some musical theatre soloist albums:  Kristin Chenoweth, Debbie Gravitte...Barbra, of course.  Dolly Parton, Norah Jones, Annie Lennox, Kelly Clarkson.  The Story.  Ella.  I guess you could say I'm into female vocalists. ;)  There are some men...Bill Withers, James Taylor, Nat King Cole, Billy Joel.  I want to see James Taylor in concert.