Stories & Cast Interviews

Friday, October 19, 2007

Rockland County Times: Phantom Dazzles!

Posted by: WBT on Friday, October 19, 2007 at 6:06:00 pm Comments (0)

"Phantom" Dazzles The Audience at Westchester Broadway Theatre By George J. Dacre, Theatre Critic, Rockland County Times 

It was a special night, Press night, last Thursday at the Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford. WBT's 154th production, a revamped version of Phantom, the debut of Kate Rockwell in the role of Christine,electrifying the audience with her voice range, and the presence of the author of the music and lyrics for Phantom, Maury Yeston, as part of the full house attending, made it special. And then there was the emergence of the Phantom, played by Aaron Ramey, as not only a tragic figure, confined to the bowels of the Paris Opera House but a Phantom with a sense of humor, a need for love,and a Phantom who kills to keep his secret. He has no face!!!

This production of Phantom had, not only more of a story line, but fantastic special effects and staging that titillated the audience from start to finish. Directed by Tom Polum, with musical staging by Jonathan Stahl, Westchester Broadway Theatre's Phantom entertained with, not only the tragic story, but with a musical presentation that never let up, continuing through the two acts on a stage designed for the Opera House. The costumes by Gail Baldoni took you to Paris of many decades ago with the show opening on the Avenue De L'Opera and Christine and Company singing "Melodie de Paris". From this beginning Westchester Broadways audience was seeing the budding of a star, Kate Rockwell. Her voice is divine, her stage presence wondrous and she was part of the Press Night dazzle.She is just 24!
Music and lyrics author Maury Yeston told WBT's Pia Haas, this young lady does not have to do reality TV(referring to Rockwell's performance as a finalist in "Grease, You"re The One That I Want"," I want her for my next musical", which would be on Broadway. 

The story line is carried out with the Phantom killing an Opera stagehand who ventured into the bowels of the Opera House and the Phantom emerges to love Christine and to teach her how to sing more professionally.Christine gets to sing at a Paris bistro and this enrages diva Carlotta. The tragique of Phantom is the main theme but the lively and lovely singing and orchestration that comes with the various scenes somehow makes it easier to take and there are laughs and a great deal of surprise special effects that make it a lively vehicle and just fun to watch. 

This is a top-flight cast in Phantom, including Ramey(the Phantom) who played the same role at WBT years ago, the lovely Kate Rockwell, James Van Treuren, the Phantoms father, Sandy Rosenberg, as Carlotta,Gary Maracheck as Cholet, Michael Padgett as Count Phillipe and Steven Rich as Jean-Claude. Set design by George Puello and Steven Loftus is extraordinary. Technical Direction and Special Effects by Peter Barbieri Jr., outstanding. Musical Staging by Jonathan Stahl.

Phantom at Westchester Broadway Theatre is a great show. I rate it Four Stars out of Four!!!! Footlights: The 2007- 2008 season at WBT includes a Christmas Carol, the Buddy Holly Story, Beauty and the Beast the Tony Ward Winning Mel Brooks Musical Hit whose name we cannot use yet, and the famous A Wonderful Life musical.For tickets and reservations 914 592-2222.

News Times sings Phantom's praises

Posted by: WBT on Friday, October 19, 2007 at 5:50:00 pm Comments (0)

 'Phantom' is haunting musical drama By Chesley Plemmons, News Times theater critic

Drum roll, please. Let's settle the debate about which of two dueling musicals is best "" "Phantom" by Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit or "Phantom of the Opera" by Andrew Lloyd Webber. In my book, "Phantom," which has returned to the Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford, N.Y. after a ten-year absence, is the hands down winner. I'm not discounting the scope and power of a Broadway orchestra or the special effects that a million dollar production can provide, but song for song and story for story, Yeston's score is richer and more varied, and Kopit's book provides a convincing, touching and resolved narrative that tops Webber's ambiguous ending.

Both musicals are based on the famed novel by Gaston LeRoux about the masked "phantom" that lived in the bowels of the Paris Opera House and watched over it as though it were his own kingdom. Composer Yeston and playwright Kopit were working on their version of the story when Webber beat them to a Broadway opening. With rave reviews "" mostly for his production "" it became impossible for them to raise money to mount another big musical on the same subject, and so "Phantom" found its place with regional theaters where it has flourished for over 15 years "" and for good reason.

The Westchester production is a beautiful combination of period costumes and elaborate sets. A turntable that rises from the center stage and appears to disappear downward transports the action effortlessly into the shadows of the Phantom's domain. George Puello and Steven Loftus are the sets designers and they have outdone themselves in opulence and gold glitter. Their handsome contributions are complemented by Gail Baldoni's lush and elegant costumes which have a fresh look often missing in costume dramas.

The theater has obviously spent a bundle on this, their signature musical. Although the special effects are limited by space, they are nevertheless dramatic, eye-catching and often amusing. There's plenty of physical action and wait until you see what happens to one of the villains of the piece! Let's just say it lights up the stage. The comparative different between the two Phantoms is noticeable almost from the outset. "Phantom" balances its music with complex characters that bring LeRoux's story to life with a depth of feeling missing in the Broadway version. When the Phantom (Aaron Ramey), here given the name of Eric, hears the voice of Christine (Kate Rockwell) a street singer, he becomes obsessed with her voice and persuades her to let him give her vocal training so she can sing in the opera house. Although he is masked, for anonymity he says, she trusts him and secretly becomes his student. At the same time, Christine's future is also being looked after by the Count De Chandon (Michael Padgett) who has also heard her sing and is likewise smitten with her beauty. The unspoken rivalry of the two men for her affections and her progress as a singer takes place against an ever-changing political environment at the opera house. Gerard Carriere (James Van Treuren), the manager of the Paris Opera, and the secret guardian of Eric, is dismissed by the new owners, Alain Cholet (Gary Marachek) and his talentless dragon of a wife, Carlotta (Sandy Rosenberg) who installs herself as the resident prima donna. With the help of the Count, Christine enters a vocal competition at a local bistro where her brilliant soprano wins a thundering ovation and an opportunity to sing at the opera. The jealous Carlotta plots to disgrace Christine when she is finally given a major role and her actions trigger the Phantom's rage bringing down the opera house chandelier on the audience. He flees taking Christine with him into the catacombs of the building where he swears to keep her forever. All this is pretty much as the Webber version also tells it except that "Phantom: at this point includes a play within a play, "The Story of Eric," which explains how the Phantom became the ghostly masked figure. It's believable, touching and sets up a conclusion that has many in the audience in tears.

Yeston's score is filled with soaring ballads including "You Are Music" which can hold its own against Webber's "Music of the Night." In addition to that lovely number, there is also the lively "Melodie de Paris" and "Dressing for the Night." On the more powerful side listen for "Home," "My True Love" and "You Are My Own." All is not in a heavy vein however and the evil Carlotta, played with a broad comic touch by Rosenberg, earns laughs with her greedy ode to power, "This Place is Mine." For Christine and the Count the composer has provided a bouncy love duet, "Who Could Ever Have Thought Up You." The voices of the three principals, Ramey, Rockwell and van Treuren are exceptional and their acting is also first rate. A large cast also shines both vocally and dramatically. 

Tom Polum, who directed the last production of this show here in 1996, has returned at the helm and his vision seems stronger and more persuasive than ever. The musical direction is under the baton of Patrick Q. Kelly and all other production elements are handled with flair especially the moody lighting of Andrew Gmoser. In recommending this musical without reservations, I realize that fans of the Broadway version will probably point to its spectacular production as evidence of superiority. I think you'll agree that the music and emotional impact of "Phantom" more than offsets that advantage. Some day I'd love to see a production of this show on a stage as large as one on Broadway and hear this music from a full sized orchestra "" then there will be no bone of contention, whatsoever.

"Phantom" plays now through Nov. 25 and Dec. 27 through Feb. 9 at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, 1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford, New York (Exit 23 off the Saw Mill Parkway). Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with dinner served from 6; Sundays at 7 with dinner starting at 5; matinees Wednesdays and Thursdays at 1 p.m. with lunch served from 11:30 a.m., and Sundays at 1:30 with lunch starting at noon. There are selected Wednesday evening performances at 8 (call the box office for dates.) Tickets are $60 to $73 and include meal and show. Taxes, beverage service and gratuities are not included. Discounts are available for groups of 20 or more, and also for children, students and senior citizens at selected performances. Luxury boxes are available for parties of six to 22 and include an expanded dinner menu, hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, private powder room and reserved parking. For reservations call (914) 592-222; for groups (914) 592-2225 and for luxury boxes (914) 592-8730. Print Email Return to Top

A Mighty Return

Posted by: WBT on Friday, October 19, 2007 at 5:46:00 pm Comments (0)

Phantom returns to Westchester Broadway Theatre By Gary Chattman, thecheappop.com 

Picture this, if you can: We are transported back in time, to an Opera House in Paris. The year is 1911. This is no ordinary opera house, however. This one has underground chambers, trapdoors and catacombs where anyone—or any phantom—can hide out from the world.

As novelist Gaston Leroux wrote in his 1910 novel, Le Fantome de l’opera, The Phantom of the Opera: “The Opera ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artists, the superstition of the managers, or a product of the absurd and impressionable brains of the young ladies of the ballet, their mothers, the box-keepers, the cloak-room attendants or the concierge. Yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a spectral shade.”

At the Westchester Broadway Theatre this fall you can actually see this ghost—this phantom. He is real! In 1992, this superior version of this show first played to packed houses at WBT. Now, due to good fortune, or due to the re-creation for this 154th production of the longest-running, 52-week-a-year theatre in New York, the Phantom returns to haunt. Full Story

'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."