Before I went on Christmas vacation, I had the opportunity to see PHANTOM, skillfully directed by Scott Beyette at Boulder's Dinner Theatre. After 34 years, this company is still going strong, producing wonderful shows, and PHANTOM is no exception. To review this show properly, we must begin at the beginning – dinner. The staff was friendly and helpful, and showed no signs of anxiety about going onstage right after the meal. As far as setting the gothic opera atmosphere, it would have been a great touch to have some music playing during dinner. The meal was delicious (definitely get the brie and the bolognese!) and there was a rousing preview for The Drowsy Chaperone, opening in February. I do wish the menu had been a little more whimsical, reflecting the Parisian flavor of the show onstage, but it was wonderful regardless.
About the show itself. This production is different from Andrew Lloyd Webber's big Broadway hit, which is concentrated in opera and sung verse. Maury Yeston (music/lyrics) and Arthur Kopit's (book) version follows the original, very dark 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux more closely than the lighter, contemporary British version, and is actually very musical friendly. In Leroux's version, Erik (The Phantom) is Christine's unseen tutor (The Angel of Music her father speaks of on his deathbed), and she his eventual obsession. Erik falls into possessive love with Christine, going so far as to kidnap her (twice) in hopes of making her fall in love with him. While these are familiar plot points, this version offers us some humanizing insights into The Phantom's background, including his childhood and reason for going underground. A couple of scenes in Act II are a little corny (Carlotta's death) and slow (the picnic with the Acolytes and unmasking of The Phantom), but the show ends well with a touching reunion between Erik and his father. Overall, this is a dramatic show full of twists and turns and outstanding musical numbers, and touches on deeper themes of human connection, revelation, the true meaning of love, and selfhood.
When we actors are starting out, we have to pay our dues, whether it's performing in dinner theatres, amusement parks, or cruise ship entertainment. This company, however, is an exception to the rule and brings a humble professionalism on and off the stage that is quite refreshing. The two leads have stunningly seasoned voices, each with surprising range. Maggie Sczekan as the enchanting Christine Daaé has some serious pipes on her, and Markus Warren as Erik commands the stage as the intimidating yet profoundly vulnerable Phantom. The real scene-stealer is Joanie Brosseau as the diva-licious Carlotta Cholét. She brings lighthearted moments to this otherwise darkly mesmerizing musical. Also worth mentioning are Brian Norber as Erik's father, Gerard, and Katie Ulrich as Erik's mother, Belladova, each of whom offer touching portrayals as well as keen insights into Erik's life as a youngster.
Besides the fabulous voices, this show is all about the gorgeous period costumes and stellar set. Linda Morken's costumes are filled with rich tapestries, velvets, silks, feathers and coattails. Each costume is quite stunning in its individuality. The set by designer Amy Campion is also something to behold. It's a multi-tier stage with a catwalk and a movable ramp, which offers multi-dimensional depth from the ceiling to the gallows below. It's worth noting that the pulley system is utterly unobtrusive and adds fluidity to the set transitions. The gondola, too, is an innovative atmospheric and functional addition with its movable circular apparatus in center stage, which gives the gondola a lovely floating effect. This show would not be the spectacle that it is without its stunning lighting effects by designer Rachel Dugan and sound design by Wayne Kennedy. Theater should be a multi-sensory experience, and the lighting and sound mixes should support the overall atmosphere and tone the director is striving for. With Dugan's casting of large, ominous shadows and Kennedy's subtle use of background sound, this team captures the essence of The Phantom's inner struggles with self-loathing as well as his increasing obsessive love for Christine.
This PHANTOM is like none you've seen before. The cast and crew at Boulder's Dinner Theatre deserve all the kudos they receive for taking a risk and offering a forgotten version of this timeless story. For tickets or information, contact the box office at 303-449-6000 or online at www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com.