Thursday, August 30, 2012

Phantom of The Opera | Review

Phantom of the Opera OFF BROADWAY

Posted May 1st, 2010 21:27
Heading into the Players Theatre downtown in the West Village to see a new production of "Phantom of the Opera" off Broadway had me curious. I knew going in that the production was going to be quite scaled down, but I found myself wondering in what ways it would be so. By nature of the fact that the current production on Broadway is the longest running show in Broadway history, Be Bold productions has a big task on their hands, trying to bring something new to a show that is known and loved the world over by so many different people.

As expected, this version of "Phantom" followed the novel much more closely, opening with Gaston Leroux (Tony Paterniti) as the author/narrator, there to give some insight to a story that he's "just finished writing." He takes us back in time thirty years to when the story is supposed to have taken place at the Grand Opera in Paris. Surprisingly, the ballerinas fluttered around the stage in many scenes with great skill. The actresses hired to portray them are obviously trained dancers, and I must say that added quite a bit to the ambiance of what was going on on stage.

The suspense is built up to the entrance of the main attraction for the men in the musical--Christine Daae. Amanda Salvatore, while a perfectly adapt actress, was not given nearly enough musical numbers, in my humble opinion, to be a full fledged Christine Daae. She is supposed to be the ingenue, and by all local musical theatre standards, she should sing the majority of the songs, or at least come out with a song. Rather, her entrance was oddly placed with her back to the audience as Leroux told her story.

The first act felt rushed, a little strange and there seemed to be pieces missing, but it wasn't bad. In fact, it was better than I expected. Kalen J Hall played Raoul perfectly, and especially in the scene where he gives his account of the grave yard scene, he was superb, and 100% committed to what his character was doing. As an audience member, this is greatly appreciated and it helped me stay in the moment, despite the oddly placed dancers dressed as skeletons throughout the grave yard. They were awkward and it seemed like an excuse to show off what the choreographer could do, rather than something that actually drove the plot.

However, if Be Bold productions knows how to do one thing, it's ending an act. The first act closer brought together all the characters in a masked ball. The audience was hit with a surround sound effect when a magical chorus appeared at the back of the theatre to sing the Kyrie with those character we'd previously been introduced to in front of us. It was shocking, but not out of place, and absolutely welcomed. It was at the beginning of that Kyrie that I began to actually enjoy the Phantom's (Eric Fletcher) voice. In previous scenes he seemed to be a tad bit flat, but I would attribute that more to the lack of piano in the band than anything else.

That was the main problem with the show, to be honest. With the addition of a piano and removal of some of the percussion, this show could be a really great off Broadway piece. As it stands, the drums are overwhelming, and much too loud for a cast that doesn't even have microphones. Sadly, a cello is not enough to keep most singers on key all the time, and they need at least a keyboard to keep the music flowing. Aside from that, a lot of the songs seemed too similar. They had a monotone quality to them and it begins to wear on an audience member's ears after a while.

However, the second act began to pick things up. The addition of the character "Mama Valerius" (played by Brianna Hurley) was superb. I could not have imagined a better way to get the second half off to a start. She is a true comedic actress who deserves great accolades for her work as that character. I previously saw her in Cinderella, and thought she was good, but it was nothing compared to this. If there were to be one stand out moment in the second act, that would be it for me.

The second act was much more similar to the Broadway version of the show than the first act had been, save for the addition of the Persian (Dustin Cross) who guided Raoul in his search for Christine in the bowels of the opera house. Erik (the phantom) is given a stunning song in this act that beautifully shows off his entire range and really made me love his voice even more, despite the choice to play Erik as a child-like character, at least mentally. I had trouble enjoying that aspect of it, though I could completely understand why they might make that acting or directorial choice for his character.

The problem here? I can remember how beautiful his voice was, but I cannot remember which song it was that he sounded so wonderful on. That's never a good sign for a composure. You want your music to stand out, catch in my mind and be remembered even days after the show.

Overall, the show was better than I expected it to be, and I attribute that to the new aspects of the novel brought into this production by book writer Brenda Bell, as well as the excellent work done by the stand out actors mentioned above. Others who deserve recognition include, Ken Quiricone, who played one of the Opera Managers, Richard and is making his New York City debut. He was quite committed, and quite impressive. And, choreographer Stefanie Smith who also played the role of Meg Giry was a stand out from the start of the show. She flew onto stage with grace and poise and I would consider myself lucky to watch her dance in further productions.

So, bravo to Be Bold productions for tackling something that most people and companies would not. With a giant like Andrew Lloyd Weber's production shadowing over them, they should be applauded for breaking away and bringing something new to this classic story.

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