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The Devil's In the Details

An elaborate rendition of The Phantom of the Opera fails to connect

Tim Martin Gleason suffers grandly.

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 4/14/2010

The Phantom of the Opera

By Andrew Lloyd Webber

Through April 25 at the Hippodrome

Even if you've never seen The Phantom of the Opera, you would probably recognize the title song or the white mask the ghostly musician wears. It's one of those musicals, like Cats or Les Miserables, that has seeped into pop-culture consciousness. And as such, it comes with big expectations. Being performed at the Hippodrome as part of a show that has been touring since 1992 just heightens those expectations. And this production doesn't live up to them.

Perhaps you know the story: Mysterious accidents have been haunting the Paris Opera House and some people believe them to be caused by a ghost. Christine (Trista Moldovan), a young chorus girl, is tapped to perform the lead in an opera. Her singing has been refined by an unseen figure she calls her angel of music. It turns out the ghost and Christine's angel are one in the same--the titular Phantom (Tim Martin Gleason). He kidnaps Christine and takes her to an underground lair. He eventually returns Christine, and she falls in love with Raoul (Sean MacLaughlin), which really pisses the Phantom off.

This touring production features impressively massive, intricate sets. The play starts with an auction at the dilapidated opera house and then transforms magnificently into the house during its prime. But small details hindered the magic. The chandelier, which features heavily in the play, swings from the stage up to the ceiling in grand effect, but it was clear that it was only decorated on the side facing the audience. During another number, the Phantom hides behind a giant cross, but the audience on the right side of the stage could plainly see his arm the entire scene, so his reveal lacked impact. And when a man is hung--a pivotal moment that transforms the relationship between Christine and the Phantom--it looked so fake, so rag doll, that it felt like an effigy had been hung instead of a man.

More problematic was the sound, as the levels weren't even. Several times, two different groups were singing competing parts but only one could be heard, providing only half the story. All in all, these missteps kept the audience from becoming fully engaged in the story.

There was still much to enjoy about this Phantom. The comedy numbers were excellent. The over-the-top operas were hysterical, even if you aren't an opera buff. Gleason was genuinely creeptastic as the Phantom. Moldovan's Christine was a bit bland, but there was no denying her chemistry with MacLaughlin's dashing if not very multidimensional Raoul. The show-stealers, though, were D.C. Anderson and Bruce Winant as the theater managers, with a scene during which they react to a series of notes left by the Phantom a memorable highlight. Every time they stepped onstage the show came to life. The music was intense, of course, and Gleason's voice, in particular, has amazing range and tone. The costumes were also meticulously detailed and beautiful. If that meticulousness had carried through the entire production, this Phantom of the Opera would have been a frighteningly magnificent night at the theater.

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