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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Phantom Of The Opera
Returns to San Francisco

Also see Richard's review of Aida

The Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe classic musical Phantom of the Opera has returned to the Orpheum Theatre. This production is no bus and truck tour but a full staging with three first rate singers who are believable in the title roles. Phantom, which had an outstanding five year run at the Curran, is a welcome even for the economy of the city. The massive sets are basically the same that were housed at the Curran, including the 900 pound, 35,000 bead chandelier overhead ready to come down upon the stage at the end of the first act. There are 36 performers, 17 musicians, 230 different costumes and even 11 mannequins for the "Masquerade" number. The opulent set of the Hannibal opera that opens the musical still amazes me; however, it looks more like Aida than an opera about the conqueror of Rome. The unbelievable mechanical elephant still raises his truck and you have the campy corps de ballet still doing their dance of the flowing veils.

My association with Phantom goes back to 1986 when Mr. Webber proposed the musical to backers in the United Kingdom. Many playwrights and musicians had previously had the idea to present the melodrama on stage, but their attempts were unsuccessful. Even with Lloyd Webber's success with prior works, many were hesitant about presenting Gaston Leroux’s penny dreadful story on stage. However, the work premiered at Her Majesty's Theatre in October 1986 with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman in the main roles. I saw the second night performance at the theater, and I could see that this was no ordinary musical. A watershed in musicals was happening before my very eyes.

The critics thought that the synthesis of musical and opera would run at least a year. They felt it just would not catch on with the general public. In fact, at the very beginning it was no problem to obtain tickets to Her Majesty's Theatre for the run. Then it became a mega hit overnight. Needless to say, we all know what has happened as Phantom continues to thrill audiences all over the world. In every city where Phantom plays, the local businesses profit. For instance, in Denver recently, Phantom had a record breaking ten week engagement where it attracted 224,393 people who traveled from as far away as Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming to attend performances. The Webber musical caused an estimated $22,000,000 infusion into the Denver economy.

The Phantom cast at the Orpheum is one of the best I have ever seen (this was my 9th time to see the musical). Brad Little, who has played the role off and on since September 27, 1996, is smashing. He artfully emphasizes the mad and melodramatic side of the Phantom without stepping over the line into parody. Little succeeds in bringing forth the complex character of the person that is feared and hated and yet is so tragic that you must sympathize with his plight. This is a truly great and moving performance. His baritone voice runs from the powerful gushing of reverberating, threatening whispers to beguiling singing to melodramatic command.

Lisa Vroman is back in the role of Christine and she is better then ever. She is the dramatic equal to Brad Little in singing and acting. Ms. Vroman gives an entrancing performance, and her voice is bell clear in every song she sings. She is outstanding in the sweet love song “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.” Tim Martin Gleason makes a charming Raoul. He is youthful, extemporaneous and attractive with a full voice as the romantic interest of Christine.

The supporting cast is superb, with Kim Stengel's convincing performance as diva Carlotta and D.C. Anderson’s great comic performance as the enthusiastic Monsieur André.

The large orchestra under the direction of Glen Langdon gives a full and rich sound. Sets by Bjornson are still spectacular, especially the underground scene of the opera house with its many candles coming from the floor and sides, and the boat silently floating through these illuminating objects. The “Masquerade” scene at the opening of the second act is amazing with its color and lavishness. Phantom continues to deliver in every way and this is a sterling production.

Phantom of the Opera plays at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco thru September 7th. For tickets call 415-512-7770 or visit www.bestofbroadway-sf.com.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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