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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

The Phantom of the Opera at the Paramount

Also see David's review of A Moon for the Misbegotten

The phenomenally successful Harold Prince staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe's The Phantom of the Opera has returned to Seattle for a fourth visit, in respectable but not exactly rousing form. Younger audience members or those who have managed to miss the Phantom here, on Broadway and elsewhere in the nearly two decades since it first appeared, are clearly going to enjoy it more than those of us on our fourth or fifth go round.

Based on Gaston Leroux's frequently adapted tale of a mysterious phantom who haunts the Paris Opera while coaching and pursuing a futile romance with a young opera singer, Webber's Phantom has an inescapably familiar ring to it by now. Songs like "All I Ask of You," "The Music of the Night" and the title song have become recognizable to even non-theatergoers via the likes of Barbra Streisand and others widely played recordings. And, vocally, the score is richly served by the principal performers in the current tour.

Brad Little is a far more vocally powerful Phantom than the role's originator Michael Crawford, though Little tends to growl and snarl his way through the lower notes. In general, though, he is one of the better masked men this writer has seen take on the role, effectively blending menace and pathos. Even better is the captivating Lisa Vroman as opera star-to-be Christine Daae. Vroman may have played this role more times than anyone, having toured with the show, done a long run in San Francisco and a run on Broadway, but her performance is still fresh, and her vocals, always secure, have grown richer and more full-bodied through the years. As Raoul, Christine's childhood sweetheart who returns to romance her and rescue her from the Phantom's clutches, Tim Martin Gleason is a bit overblown and melodramatic, even given the melodrama of the piece. Still, he shares the same level of vocal prowess as his co-stars. David Cryer and D.C. Anderson are comic delights as the petrified opera house managers, and mega-voiced Kim Stengel - seemingly channeling Miss Piggy as the opera's prima Donna Carlotta - adds further comic flair to the production.

Gillian Lynne's choreography of the pivotal "Masquerade" number remains striking, as do Maria Bjornson's production design and Andrew Bridge's lighting. At the press opening I attended, a hanging victim of the Phantom inadvertently appeared prior to the planned moment of his demise, but that was surely a rare occurrence. The orchestra sounded rich and full, though spotty miking sometime muddied the vocalist's lyrics.

Many in the crowd stood at the end to applaud the production. While I was not moved to rise, I can imagine that for a new viewer the show is still quite the eyeful - and likely to remain a draw whether the now shooting film version is a hit or a flop.

The Phantom of the Opera runs through September 28, 2003 at the Paramount, 911 Pine Street, in downtown Seattle. For further information go to the Paramount's web site at www.theparamount.com.




- David-Edward Hughes



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