Phantom at Westchester Broadway Theatre, Elmsford, NY

Published: Monday, October 15, 2018 By: Eugene Paul Source: ROCKLAND REVIEW

A new Phantom star lights up this new production of Yeston/Kopit’s splendid version of the original famed LeRoux melodrama. Phantom at Westchester Broadway Theatre, Elmsford, NY

The biggest distinction in the two musicals based on Gaston LeRoux’s 1911 novel, “The Phantom of the Opera” is that the current extravagant production here in Westchester moves you, thanks chiefly to the passionate performance of Matthew Billman as the Phantom, the exotic, dangerous, masked creature that haunts the dim reaches of the glorious Paris Opera House back in the dim reaches of the nineteenth century, terrifying yet compelling.

Andrew Lloyd Weber’s staggeringly successful softer, gentler production reached Broadway in 1991 and has been running there and around the world ever since. Phantom, the Maury Yeston - Arthur Kopit far more melodramatic version was shut out of Broadway – you just cannot have two huge musicals on the same story at the same time -- yet there have been more than a thousand productions of their dark- er, stronger retelling.

In fact, this is the fourth Westchester Broadway presentation of Phantom, the most successful of the 207 shows that producers Bob Funking and Bill Stutler have presented in their famed dinner theatre. You owe it to yourselves to see why.

Matthew Billman is a star aborning. And is there anything more thrilling than to see that fine blaze? He dominates the stage. Not only is he in splendid voice and presence, he CARES deeply as the tortured, disfigured man who has hidden himself away from everyone, only to fall hopelessly in love with a beautiful girl with a beautiful voice, Christine (lovely Kayleen Seidl). Untutored country girl Christine yearns to be more than a street singer. Her dream: to appear at the pinnacle, the Paris Opera House and as in sturdy French romances, this means catching the eye of an admirer who can be of assistance. Enter the Comte de Chandon, (Larry Luck) who is not only titled, handsome and debonair and surrounded with girlfriends, he also happens to know the new manager of the Opera House, Cholet (Kilty Reidy). He can make this happen.

What he doesn’t know is that the new manager’s wife, Carlotta (Sandy Rosenberg), a singer herself, will never allow it. An abundance of complications ensue including murders right before our eyes – our Phantom is unbalanced – and heartbreak.

We discover the ousted manager, Carriere (fine James Van Treuren) is the guilt-ridden father of Erik, the Phantom, culminating in the most moving scene in the entire show between the masked Erik and his tortured father who loves his disfigured son and has hidden him away all his life in the cellars beneath the opera house. And now, that twisted boy is a man in love, a very dangerous man.

Director Tom Polum, himself a veteran of other productions of Phantom, here at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, has chosen to adopt a strongly nineteenth-century style for his production, emphasizing broadness rather than subtlety in drawing his characters. It works brilliantly when he has the remarkable Matthew Billman as his Phantom; it lays comic eggs all over the place with the exaggerations demanded of Carlotta and her husband as comedy relief and ill fits Carlotta’s poisonous machinations against Christine. But, hey, it’s melodrama, the most popular form of entertainment 150 years ago. Not that things have changed that much. Only now, it’s part of our everyday lives.

Director Polum knows his Westchester company gives its customary 110 percent and counts on it. He has strong costume support from designer Keith Nielsen and a plenitude of scenic devices for the show’s twenty-one scene changes from designer technical director Steve Loftus, but the rock-solid core of musical director Bob Bray’s musicians is the strength uplifting Maury Yeston’s still fine score.