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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Phantom of San Jose is Charming and Thoughtful

Maury Yeston's Phantom came back to the American Musical Theatre in San Jose for a three week run. The musical was a great success when it first arrived several seasons ago and the company brought it back by popular demand. This is the last show of the 99-00 season and it is an elegant and thoughtful production starring Richard White as the Phantom.

We had seen this production when it first played in San Jose several years ago. I wanted to see it again since we were under the impression that Robert Cuccioli would be the phantom. Unfortunately Mr. Cuccioli had a prior commitment and so the original phantom, Richard White, stepped in to star in the vehicle. Once again I thought this was a thoughtful and charming production. It succeeded more in moving me rather then scaring me or titillating my mind. Where the Webber version focuses on the spectacular, this was a moving phantom. It went beyond the special effects to explore the love story. This phantom was disfigured from birth at a time when medical science could not help his plight. I felt great sympathy for him. He was not the monster Webber depicted. The book by Arthur Kopit was more to the true spirit of the Gaston Leroux novel.

Maury Yeston started to compose the score for Phantom immediately after composing Nine. He did not want a phantom that was a monster. He never liked the movie versions where acid is thrown into the face and hence he became a beast. His character would elicit deep sympathy. This phantom would be placed in the catacombs of the Paris Opera and his beauty would become the music he heard wafting from the stage. Yeston wanted a classic American musical like Gigi or My Fair Lady.

Mr. Yeston secured a 3 million dollar budget and it was ready for a Broadway premier. Then the unthinkable occurred, Andrew Lloyd Webber released Phantom of the Opera and the money secured was withdrawn, the premiere was canceled and Mr. Yeston went on to other projects. The Kopit script was sold to NBC who produced a non-musical mini-series. In the meantime, “Theatre Under the Stars” in Houston, Texas wanted to produce the Yeston musical. At first the composer declined but finally relented. However, he wanted the Texas company to be sure to tell their patrons that is was not Sir Lloyd-Webber's Phantom of the Opera. The show opened to great acclaim.

Since the premier of the musical in Texas, Phantom has grossed over 71 million dollars to date. It has become one of the most popular musicals of all time. Mr. Yeston has seen many of his Phantom productions all over the United States. He has said “Of all the productions I've seen, the San Jose version stands out as stellar”. “The sets, costumes, and direction are some of the best I've ever seen. I came away with enormous respect for the San Jose creative team”. I have to agree with Mr. Yeston since this is one of the best productions that the AMT has put on these past seasons.

Maury Yeston's score is lush and compelling. Some of the songs are lovely. I especially love “Melodie de Paris”. That lilting melody keeps waltzing in my head. The songs “Home” and “You are Music” are gorgeous. The songs are ornamented with melody and they laud the female soprano voice. Beyond the beautiful score is the unique story and the moving way it is told. There are many touching moments in this production. “The Story of Erik, the Phantom”, is well done. We learn why the phantom is disfigured and this gains our sympathy. There are many such moments, as when Christine confronts the phantom in “You are My Own” and when Erik's father, who is also the fired Paris Opera manager, confronts his son in the final scenes of the musical. This is very heart rending. There is much action, a large cast and wonderful actors and singers in this production.

Richard Wright starred in the original production and he played the role on the RCA Victor CD. He has a strong voice and a great stage presence. His rendition of “You are Music,” and “You are My Own” are outstanding. You immediately gained sympathy for his situation. Kristin Peterson plays Christine. She has a voice of fine quality with a sweet tone. She is also very pert and pretty and a damn good actress.

Carlotta, played by Ann Arvia, was very funny. She had a tremendous voice and she particularly shined in the song “This Place Is Mine”. You could hear every witty word and every note coming from her powerful voice. Even when she has to sing badly she is good. Simon Relph is charming as Count Philippe. Joe Vincent, one of our better Bay Area actors, is outstanding as Gerald Carriere the father of Erik and the fired Paris Opera Manager. His duet with Mr. Wright in the last scene is superb.

Director Marc Jacobs treated this show as if it were on Broadway, including such touches as a mobile catwalk that stretches the length of the stage, many scene changes and even flamboyant pyrotechnics. The costumes are elaborate and theatrical. It was worth driving down to San Jose to see this great production. This is the last show of the 99-00 season. The 2000-01 season will include Victor, Victoria, Barry Manilow's Copacabana, the American premier of The Three Musketeers, and Singing in the Rain.


Cheers,


- Richard Connema



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