Phantom At WBT

Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2018 By: GARY CHATTMAN: Source: Westchester Arts & Education Review

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, and again in 2007, 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 production of the longest-running, 52-week-a-year theatre in New York, the Phantom returns to haunt.

          This version by Kopit and Yeston is superior in so many ways to that of the Andrew Lloyd Webber incantation.   We can actually understand the plot; we can actually hear and understand the music.   It isn’t an operetta—no, the characters actually talk to each other!   We, the audience, gain empathy for Erik—yes, that’s the Phantom’s real name—and can actually follow the plot.   The melodious songs, from “Melodie de Paris” to “Home” to “You Are My Own” actually connote American musical theatre, rather than Webber’s derivative classical music.  

          On stage, we first see this opera house, and, lo and behold!  There is an underground lair—a set that rises and falls to reveal the Phantom’s “home”.  And there is a catwalk above.  This set, designed by Steven Loftus, rivals any on Broadway.  You marvel at the seamless scene transitions, the lighting by Andrew Gmoser: and the costume design by Keith Nielsen.

          The story:  A child is born.  Unfortunately, this child has a deformed face and grows up trying to hide from society.  His parents, terrified, do not know what to do with this boy.   So he grows to manhood, hiding in the catacombs of the Paris Opera House; hiding his face with a mask.   He has helped in the construction of this building, so he knows all the hiding places.  Only the newly-dismissed proprietor, Gerard Carriere, knows of this phantom ’s poor existence and is his protector.  If someone disturbs this phantom’s lair, this person will meet with death.

          Enter Christine Daae, a farm girl with a magnificent voice who becomes the Phantom’s protégée, and he falls in love with her.  Complications ensue, for she is also loved by the Count Philippe de Chandon.

          This tragedy is played by a superior cast.   Kayleen Seidl, as Christine excels here, for her acting and singing prowess rival that of original Broadway diva Sarah Brightman in the Webber “Phantom”.  She will be appearing on Broadway—watch for her!

          As the Phantom, Matthew Billman manages to convey the inner turmoil of the character, though he is covered by a mask throughout.  Unlike Webber’s show, this Phantom has a soul and a heart, and a voice and talent that mirror the “imagination”, “superstition” and haunts of a misfit whose parents loved him, but who cannot find happiness in life and love.

          When you see (and hear) Sandy Rosenberg (as Carlotta) you cringe at her voice (as the character, of course), laugh at her antics, and marvel at her ability.  Her husband in the show, Kilty Reidy (as Cholet) plays the excellent foil.   Kudos to James Van Treuren (as Gerard Carriere), who has appeared in both previous versions of this show, and has exceptional stage presence and voice. 

          Director Tom Polum was part of the original production of “Phantom”.  He has created another WBT “Off-Broadway” masterpiece.   How many Broadway show opening nights feature a STANDING OVATION BY CRITICS?  This one did!

          The Phantom story is timeless through literary history.  Lon Chaney played the Phantom in a silent version in 1925; The Phantom of the Paradise was a de Palma horror dramedy in 1974.

          I have mentioned many times the benefits of going to the Westchester Broadway Theatre instead of traipsing to Broadway to pay Broadway prices, parking fees, and traffic.   I reiterate that fact.  These WBT shows, particularly PHANTOM, are indeed far superior to much that is on Broadway, and the price here is cheaper.  And you eat lunch or dinner.  And the talent is unsurpassed.  As usual, the team of Stutler/Funking and Tiso once again succeed to give you the whole experience—great food, free parking, and a show that is more worthy than Broadway!  “Where in the World” can you find such a masterpiece?  Westchester Broadway Theatre is “Home!”

          WBT has a website.   Go to Broadwaytheatreblog.com and see scenes and information on this fantabulous performance!  And get your tickets fast.  There will be very few seats to be had during this run!