Review: 'Phantom' at Westchester Broadway Theatre

While I knew that there were several PHANTOM films, I brought along as my guest a huge PHANTOM fan to help me appreciate the musical.

Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2018 By: Nancy Sasso Janis

Westchester Broadway Theatre has opened their 207th production and it is PHANTOM, not to be confused with Andrew Lloyd Webber's madly popular PHANTOM OF THE OPERA that continues to run on Broadway and which I still have yet to see. This musical with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston (GRAND HOTEL) and a book by Arthur Kopit is based on the novel Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. This team was the Tony Award-winning collaborators for the Broadway Musi­cal NINE.

It was interesting that Yeston & Kopit's PHANTOM made its New York Premiere on the stage of WBT in 1992 and enjoyed a record-breaking nine-month run. The original production was directed by William Pullinsi and starred Robert Cuccioli as the Phantom and Glory Crampton as Christine Daeé. PHANTOM returned to the WBT stage in both 1996 and 2007, both directed and choreographed by Tom Polum, who had appeared in the original production. The current WBT production was directed and choreographed by Mr. Polum with music direction by Bob Bray, with musical staging by Erica Mansfield.

Yeston refers to PHANTOM as "the greatest hit never to be produced on Broadway."

While I knew that there were several PHANTOM films, I brought along as my guest a huge PHANTOM fan to help me see the differences between the two versions of the musical. While both shows are based on the same novel, the Webber extravaganza is more like an opera in that it is compl­etely sung through. The Yeston/Kop­it PHANTOM is more of a traditional Broadway musical that features dia­logue and songs throug­hout. My expert agreed that the result is that the latter becomes a gripping story featuring richly drawn characters, a few impressive special effects, and some truly beautiful music.

For those of us that are unfamiliar with the backstory, this PHANTOM story revolves around the central character of a man named Erik, who was born and raised in the cata­combs under the Paris Opera House. The "phantom" agrees to take on as a student the street singer named Christ­ine, a young woman with a natural talent and a beauti­ful voice who lacks the special training to perform in an opera company. One condition of the training is that she will never see his face, which he always covers with a mask. When she eventually auditions, she is given the oppor­tunity to play a principal part in an opera. Without realizing it, the two fall in love, but the rela­tionship becomes obsessive and impossi­ble, leading to a shocking conclusion. I easily followed the emotional story and the backstory explained the motivation for most of the actions of the characters.

The incredibly talented cast is led by Matthew Billman (who will be joining the upcoming Jersey Tenors Midwest Tour) in the role of Erik/The Phantom in his WBT debut and Kayleen Seidl as Christine Daaé in her debut with WBT. Mr. Billman embodied the mysterious shadow that is the Phantom and made the most of his beautiful cape. Ms. Seidl, who recently appeared in the American premiere of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF in Yiddish directed by Joel Grey, possesses the spectacular soprano to pull off the role of Christine and she lit up the stage.

James Van Treuren, who appeared in all three of the previous productions of PHANTOM at WBT, played Gérard Carrière. Larry Luck was Count Philippe de Chandon, whose influence helps Christine get a minor job with the Opera. Kilty Reidy played Alaine Cholet, the new head of the Opera, in his 10th WBT production, and Stuart Marland (original cast of NEWSIES on Broadway) was Inspector Ledoux. Ryan Alexander Jacobs played Joseph Buquet and Roger Preston Smith was Jean Claude in his 11th show on this stage.

Sandy Rosenberg returned to WBT to perfectly play the big role of the diva Carlotta, the wife of Alaine Cholet, as she had done 11 years ago. I remembered the actress from her performance as Sr. Mary Lazarus in SISTER ACT on this stage, and in this role, she did not disappoint. Her demise was quite spectacularly done with impressive lighting.

The ensemble is made up of Christopher Brand, Julia Louise Hosack, Alec James, Caroline Kane, Melissa Maricich, Corey Joseph Masklee, Alison Rose Munn (ONCE National Tour,) Andrew Norlen, Jose Plaza, Don Rey, and Kelsey Self (ANNIE at WBT.) Shout out to ensemble member Monica Owen, a graduate of The Hartt School who appeared in THE COMEDY OF ERRORS at Hartford Stage. The children who alternate performances as Young Eric include L. Garber, L Kaplan and D. Spiegelman.

Mr. Bray leads seven other offstage musicians that never overpowered the voices. The associate choreographer was Erica Mansfield. Set Design by Steve Loftus was moody and very functional; I have never seen the circular platform that rises out of the floor used more effectively and yes, there is a chandelier. I wasn't really sure why there needed to be a magical mask holder that was lowered from the ceiling, but I loved the other touches of magic.

Lighting design by Andrew Gmoser was often stunning and sound design by Mark Zuckerman had only a few hiccups. The costume designed by Keith Nielsen fit the era in Paris and were lovely and flattering. Wig/hair design by Gerard Kelly only added to the visual beauty of what could easily have been envisioned as a horror movie.

I usually comment about the delicious food that I enjoyed before the performance. From the weekend matinee menu, I chose the show special fish and chips and it was very good. My guest Tricia sampled the chicken Francese, a new item on the menu, and she reported that she enjoyed it. The Phantom's Crush is the signature drink for this show.

The long run of this stunning production is Sept. 13 - Nov. 25, 2018, and then after a break for the holiday show, Dec. 27, 2018 - Jan. 27, 2019