On stage: The phantom ‘Phantom" and a bully pulpit.

Published: Thursday, September 27, 2018 By: Bruce Apar Source: THE KATONAH- LEWISBORO TIMES

Ladies and gentlemen of the audience, in the never-ending battle of Art versus Commerce, consider Exhibit P: the two musical Phantoms.

There is, but of course, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-breaking “Phantom of the Opera,” now in its 30th year on Broadway. That's the one with familiar songs, like “Music of the Night” and the title tune. Then there’s the Phantom by composer-lyricist Maury Yeston, also known as “the greatest show never to play on Broadway," and with music, you’ve likely not heard before.

But it has played four different times at Elmsford’s Westchester Broadway Theatre, logging more performances than any other musical at the dinner theater, where it has triumphantly returned. Except for a one-month break from Nov. 28-Dec. 26, for WBT’s holiday show, this Phantom will be very visible through Jan. 25, 2019.

For those who have not seen the Yeston “Phantom,” it is a human-scale, intimate jewel that bears scant resemblance to the lumbering, theme park-scale Webber contraption. Talk to theater people who have seen both and chances are you’ll hear a preference for the Yeston yarn. If one word had to be used to describe the appeal of “the phantom Phantom” (for its low profile relative to “the famous Phantom”), the word I’d pick is “organic.” For one, the book by noted playwright Arthur Kopit is truer to the original story, with an abiding tenderness and empathy that gets drowned by the spectacle in the Broadway show.

After the show, Maury Yeston told me, “This is absolutely among the top productions ever done of this musical,” which has had more than 1,000 performances since its debut in Houston in 1991. “They have a special affinity for it here. We like to call it the biggest hit never to play Broadway.”

When I read, before seeing the show, that Mr. Yeston said some moments brought even cowboys to tears when it played Houston, I scoffed at that notion as hyperbole. When I saw his creation last week at WBT, instead of scoffing, I too was sniffling. The scenes between the phantom Erik (Matthew Billman) and Christine (Kayleen Seidl), his protégé who rises from street singer to budding opera star, are poignant enough, but the climactic scene with Erik and his father Gerard (James Van Treuren) is heart-wrenching.

The cleverness of Mr. Webber’s commercially catchy music is eclipsed here by the authenticity of Mr. Yeston’s atmospheric melodies that lovingly inform and heighten the romance, the suspense and the tragedy that are at the heart of the classic tale. Instead of overpowering the drama, the Yeston music underscores it. In the principals, Mr. Billman and Ms. Seidl, the audience is treated to a pair of exquisite and thrilling voices that blend beautifully to produce soaring harmonies that drew cheers from the appreciative audience. The numbers are well-served by WBT’s eight musicians, directed by Bob Bray, who are in top form.

Everything about the production ranks it as one of the most impressive this reviewer has seen at Westchester Broadway Theater in the past decade.

The three-tiered, Gothic set, the design effectively incorporates the opera house, the catwalk, and the Phantom’s lagoon-side home beneath it. The carousel-shaped stage elevator center stage never has been put to better use as it transports us—and the actors—to the masked Phantom’s subterranean hideaway, where he haunts the hoipolloi. Special effects and flourishes add to the theatrical thrills, from billows of smoke wafting on stage to the shaky chandelier that alights on stage for the Act I finale.

It is is the third successive time WBT’s production of Yeston and Kopit’s Phantom that has been directed and choreographed by Tom Polum, whose masterly touch manages to deliver an experience that is entertainingly dark and uplifting at once. In addition to the leads, worthy of mention here are James Van Treuren, expertly essaying the pivotal role of Gerard Carriere for the third time at WBT and Sandy Rosenberg as tempestuous and jealous diva Carlotta.