Also see Scott's review of Daddy Long Legs
This summer, Dayton, Ohio, audiences will again get to see Andrew Lloyd Webber's grand spectacle, The Phantom of the Opera. However, for theatergoers who just can't wait, or who might prefer a more personal musical version of the classic tale, La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro, Ohio, is currently providing a solid production of Phantom, a different take on the story with tuneful songs by the composer of Nine and Titanic.
Like all of the Phantom musicals, this is an adaptation of the novel by Gaston Leroux entitled "Phantom of the Opera." This version focuses on a young woman named Christine who is singing and selling sheet music in a Parisian square when she is discovered by Count Philippe, a wealthy patron of the Paris Opera. He directs Christine to the opera house where she is to receive formal instruction. However, the opera has recently switched management, and the new owners simply give her a job as a dresser. However, Erik, a mysterious masked man who lives underneath the opera house, hears Christine singing and offers to teach her. He explains his mask, which is really for hiding his gruesome face, by saying he wishes to remain anonymous. A romantic triangle soon forms between Philippe, Christine and Erik. When Christine finally gains a leading role onstage, diva Carlotta sabotages her, and Erik takes his revenge.
The book for Phantom is by Arthur Kopit, and boasts straightforward and clear storytelling, especially in comparison with Webber's account. There is more depth to the characters, and clearer motivations and back story, though the relationship between Christine and Philippe seems quite rushed. The songs by Maury Yeston balance between operetta and traditional musical theater tunes, with lush and interesting melodies. The lyrics seem a bit pedestrian or unnatural at times, but are generally competent and in line with the setting. "Where In the World," "Home," "You Are Music," "My True Love" and "You Are My Own" are the score's best songs.
As Erik/Phantom, Patrick Ryan sings capably throughout and displays solid timing and stage presence, though his acting is overly melodramatic (even for a role such as the emotional and tortured Phantom) during some of the dialogue scenes. Megan Buzzard steals the show with beautiful vocals, and gives a multi-dimensional portrayal of Christine. Rachel Black is deliciously over-the-top as opera diva Carlotta, and La Comedia regular Chris Beiser brings polish and professionalism to the role of Carriere. Samuel Perwin has the charm and good looks you'd expect for Count Philippe, and the entire ensemble seems well rehearsed and focused.
Kevin P. Hill provides suitable direction and choreography throughout, though some of the transitions are a bit clunky (mostly due to delays in set piece changes). The set design (Matthew J. Evans), lighting (Geoffrey D. Fishburn) and costumes (A.T. Jones) are sufficient, but not quite up to the usual level audiences have come to expect from La Comedia.
Though smaller and simpler in scope than the Broadway and London adaptation of the material, this Phantom chooses character over spectacle and substance over style, and, like the version by Andrew Lloyd Webber, has songs that you will leave the theater humming. La Comedia has presented this musical adaptation several times previously and again provides a worthwhile production in its current mounting in large part due to the fine cast. The show continues at La Comedia through May 2, 2010. Tickets can be ordered by visiting www.lacomedia.com or calling 1-800-677-9505.