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‘Phantom of the Opera’ a must-see

September 16, 2010
By SARAH REED, Theater critic for Weekender

PITTSBURGH The tour of "The Phantom of the Opera," Andrew Lloyd Webber's world-famous musical which boasts hit songs such as "The Music of the Night, "All I Ask of You" and the beloved theme-song "The Phantom of the Opera," currently is playing through Sunday at the Benedum Center.

The musical will close for an unknown amount of time after its run in Los Angeles. It's not known if the tour will reopen, and if it does reopen reductions in the spectacle will be made. If you've ever desired to see it, now is the time!

"The Phantom of the Opera," based on Gaston Leroux's novel of the same name, takes place in Paris, France, predominately during the late 19th century. It tells the story of a genius composer with a facial deformity known only as "the Phantom," since he hides in the catacombs of the Paris Opera House and keeps himself hidden.

He is, however, known to those who work at the opera house. The Phantom is obsessed with a beautiful young chorus girl, Christine Daae, who he has trained to one day become the star of the Opera Populaire. As the story progresses, the relationship between the Phantom and Christine becomes increasingly difficult as Christine falls in love with her childhood sweetheart, Raoul le Vicomte de Changny.

The Phantom terrorizes the Paris Opera House in various ways, and ultimately Christine's naive beliefs about who the Phantom is in relation to her is shattered. Amidst all the havoc and his emotional torture, the Phantom still attempts to win Christine's love and makes the ultimate decision of how to prove his love for her.

Tom Schumacher, an understudy playing the Phantom at the performance I attended, did a very commendable job in the role. His singing for the most part was commanding and hypnotic. His performance from an acting standpoint also was praiseworthy but is in need of some fine-tuning. He didn't delve deeply into all the aspects of the Phantom's complex personality and just touched on them quickly. Also, he didn't allow the Phantom's true emotions to take hold, and he forced them. Overall, he was able to make the Phantom a sympathetic and compelling character.

Trista Moldovan, who plays Christine at certain performances, brought a gentle and innocent nature to the role. Her singing was captivatingly beautiful. She made each of her songs come alive in that she explored Christine's feelings and thoughts thoroughly throughout each song.

Sean MacLaughlin's Raoul was passionate and serious-minded. MacLaughlin's "grounded" take on Raoul was an appealing change to see because Raoul can be portrayed as a flighty character. MacLaughlin's singing also was magnificent and made his performance all the more gripping.

The opera managers, Messieurs Firmin and Andre, played by Michael McCoy and D.C. Anderson, respectively, were a delightful part of the production. Both brought unique and contrasting personalities to their roles. McCoy's Firmin was serious and stiff, while Anderson's Andre was skitterish and more amiable. Anderson also brought a very strong comedic flair to the role as well as an ease of performing alone as well as with others.

Kim Stengel as Carlotta, the egotistic opera star, brought a powerful operatic voice as well as a grand and humorous prima donna personality to her character.

Nancy Hess' portrayal of Madame Giry, the head ballet instructor of the opera house, was particularly interesting in that she seemed very connected to the Phantom and portrayed that she knew personally what he was capable of and respected him.

Luke Grooms' Ubaldo Piangi, the leading male opera star, was charming, while Paloma Garcia-Lee's ballet girl Meg Giry was mechanical and strangely voiced. The ensemble at times seemed to vary in their energy and professional levels. A wonderful, stand-out performer was Joseph Lee Miller in the role of Joseph Bouquet, an opera stage-hand.

Although this production is seasoned with very talented performers, it is sad to mention that the quality of the production itself has been reduced already.

The most lamentable way that this production's quality been compromised is that the orchestra is now nearly, if not completely, over-taken by canned music. However, the sets and costumes seem to be of their normal luxurious high quality.

Even though the quality of the production has already undergone some reductive changes and if the tour re-opens, future generations of theater-goers won't be able to experience the music and the grandeur of the production as it was originally presented. However, it in no way means the story is any less thrilling or endearing. If you are a devoted "Phantom phan," as I am, then you have no cause to worry that any of the story itself has lost any of its power because of the current reduction in quality. The story itself is where the true source of power is housed, and it should remain that way even if the spectacle is reduced.

(Sarah Reed is theater critic for the Weekender.)

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