`Phantom’ a must-see performance'

STAGE REVIEW - MAY 10, 2003
by Paul Janes-Brown

The Maui News - KAHULUI

  Gerald Barron - Photo - Click to Enlarge

Richard Cray as the Phantom and Randl Ask as Carriere in "You Are My Own"

The Maui Academy of Performing Arts and Maui Civic Light Opera Company’s premiere production of Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s “Phantom” opened Friday night, and the promise of how good it was going to be has been kept in spades. From the opening cavalcade of the beauty and color of Paris in the spring to the heartbreaking conclusion, this production at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater hits every note with excellence and spirit.

Director John Langs reinforces his unblemished reputation for creating hits. In this big, lavish spectacle he proves he is up to whatever artistic task he sets his mind and heart to.

This version of Gaston Leroux’s classic novel “The Phantom of Opera” has for too long lived in the shadow of the Andrew Lloyd Webber version. Yeston is a much more accomplished and original composer than Lloyd Webber and Arthur Kopit is a real playwright.

Where the Lloyd Webber work is a cartoon, Yeston and Kopit’s is a real story about a man who has been born physically deformed. Because he does not live up to the standards for physical beauty set by society, he exiles himself from the world. When he gives his heart to his true love, she breaks it by rejecting him like everyone else. The harrowing love story is told against the backdrop of the Paris Opera and the intrigues, back stabbing, and egos that make up the world of grand opera.

As the Phantom, Richard Cray tests the thesaurus to find enough superlative adjectives to describe the excellence of his work. He is a bona fide star. His vocal range, which he exhibits in “My Mother Bore Me” in the second act, must be about two and a half octaves.

 

His lower register is huge and his upper register is as sweet as a choir boy’s. His range as an actor is just as broad. This character is extremely complex and he has to express extreme emotion without the benefit of facial expression because he is masked for the entire show. He accomplishes it with his body and his voice; no mean feat.

It is hard to believe Debra Lynn produced this extravaganza and is the costar. She is a transcendently gorgeous singer whose technique is so strong, her singing appears effortless. The duets with the Phantom, particularly “Home,” are show stoppers.

Lynn’s Christine is a combination of rural naivete coupled with passionate emotions. She has a quality that is at once accessible and vulnerable.

Great singing is visceral. When one is in its presence it literally can be felt in the stomach. Singers who have created that sensation are Renée Fleming, the late Richard Tucker, Dame Joan Sutherland, to name a few. Add Cray and Lynn to that distinguished club.

Diana Hutchinson as the diva Carlotta almost steals the show. One of the most difficult things to do in a musical is to be a purposely bad singer. Hutchinson’s rendition of the very funny and extremely difficult “This Place is Mine,” where she reminds the audience “A diva’s work is never done,” is one of the high points of the evening.

But the pinnacle of the night is owned by Cray and Randl Ask, who plays Carriere. “You Are My Own” is a gut-wrenching, sob-inducing tour de force. Their voices blend together magnificently, and the song is one of the best in a truly great score.

As the Count de Chandon, Jerry Eiting turns in his usual reliable performance. His duet with Lynn in “Who Could Ever Have Dreamed Up You” is another memorable song.

Lynn’s protegé, Amber Naramore, shows why she was a winner of Hawaii Public Radio’s Art Song Contest last year with her work as Belladova, the Phantom’s deceased mother, in flashback sequences in the second act.

John Peterson is beginning to make a career out of the hen pecked, nebbish husband or brother. In this play he convinces the audience he is truly in love with the insufferable and obnoxious diva Carlotta, and he must be tone deaf not to realize how bad a singer she is.

 

Other actors in the cast include Vinnie Linares, Steve Hatcher, Andrew Bulkley, Ashley Jones, Sheryl Preston, Karen Stavash, John Ziegler and Christian Holmes.

Recognition must be given to the talented and dedicated members of the ensemble, who spent a better part of a year preparing. Their work has been more than worth while. They filled in where needed, played the parts of stage hands, sang very well and looked terrific. They are Walter Bissett, Gary Cánier, Bill Crockett, Scott Holmes, Layla Iwamoto, Betty Janes-Brown, Cameron Keys, Sandra NaPua, Lisa Paulson, Bill Prucha, Eric Roberts, Marcia Seabern, Jay Slaughter, Tom Summers and Alexis Ziegler.

The presence of a live pit orchestra under the tireless and energetic baton of Stephen Haines is also a real pleasure. The score is fiendishly difficult and the Maui Civic Light Opera orchestra does a fine job.

Bernard Tristan Foong’s costumes and Daniel Bissler’s set are other highlights. Both add tremendously to the caliber of the production. Foong’s costumes could be a show unto them selves, and Bissler’s set is among the largest and most complicated theater sets ever on the Castle Theater stage. The bistro scene looks like a Guy Buffet painting come alive.

Among the most important elements of this play are the masks. That’s right, masks. Unlike the Lloyd Webber Phantom, this one wears several, depending on his mood. One looks like a Greek god, another like a ghoul, and another is rather blank and nondescript. Credit goes to Lee Michael Walczuk and Marianna Rydvald for the mask designs.

After waiting for more than a decade to do this project, Lynn, Francie von Tempsky and David Johnston of MAPA, and Haines should feel proud of what they have wrought. Everyone on Maui should see this production. It was what the MACC was built for and it’s the kind of show Maui audiences expect and deserve.

“Phantom” plays, today and Sun day at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and on Monday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $45, $40, $35, $10 & $25 for children 12 and under. Call 242-7469 for tickets and information.