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The Phantom of the Opera

by Gretchen Collins

June 20, 2008 - Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Everyone’s favorite phantom skulked into Tulsa during June. It was obvious from the audience reaction that his return, courtesy of Celebrity Attractions, was Phan-tastic!

“The Phantom of the Opera” has all the makings of grand opera. Andrew Lloyd Webber saw to it that all the elements of opera were there. It has funny hats and outlandish wigs, costumes from a time gone by, show-stopping arias by high maintenance soprano roles, deeply passionate tenors, rafter-lifting choral pieces, a pants-role, and the most sumptuous sets money can buy. But Webber wanted to appeal to the masses and so he tweaked it just a bit, and voila, we have a musical masterpiece, because what else could the longest-running Broadway musical in history be?

I admit I approached “Phantom” with some trepidation, having seen the most recent movie and not caring for it. But, this “Phantom” with its nail-biting high-wire act, marvelous special effects – especially the water scenes, and the beautifully mysterious lighting, is just, well, flabbergasting in its splendorous staging.

It had been 12 years since “Phantom” first came to town and soared to sell-out crowds in Tulsa. If the jammed-packed Chapman Music Hall on June 20th was any indication, this visit may just outshine the first. Larry Payton, CEO and president of Celebrity Attractions, knows his subscribers. He aims to please, and he delivers. Payton has cultivated a close personal relationship with them. Each show is introduced by Payton and his relaxed style makes the auditorium of 2365 seats feel as comfortable and intimate as a small coffeehouse. Celebrity Attractions’ subscriber base is one of the largest in the country.


 

One of the greatest challenges to the Tulsa Performing Arts Center on the first visit by the “Phantom” was cutting holes into the ceiling of the Chapman Music Hall to allow for the immense 1000-pound chandelier to be hoisted in place. By this time, it was old-hat to the wizards at the PAC who create solutions backstage that make the Broadway productions more than just a play acted out on a stage. Without them, the show truly could not go on.    

Before you could say, “Who’s that masked man?” the show was underway. The chandelier rose, as from the dead, and Carlotta (Kim Stengel), Christine (Marni Raab), and Raoul (Greg Mills) rang out with “Think of Me.” Stengel did an over-the-top performance as the opera diva, appropriately screechy and all prima donna. Raab, who sang the role on Broadway, was elegantly naive as the hoofer dreaming to break out of the chorus line and into the singing spotlight. There was a fleeting dance with seven women en pointe. Soon Raab joined them.

Early on, the lighting – by Andrew Bridge – practically became a character itself. The skin of the actors was radiant while everything around them fell back into the shadows. It was reminiscent of a Rembrandt painting. The scenes depicted on water were perfection. The illumination of the smoke made it difficult to believe they really weren’t floating.

There were, however, some sound problems during media night, mostly with the orchestra which seemed to lose its power from time to time, while some of the voices seemed heavy on the mic. That was not the case during “Angel of Music,” sang by Raab and Jessi Ehrlich as Meg. It was heartfelt and clear.

During the descent into the underground labyrinth, both Raab and Richard Todd Adams as the man beneath the mask sang beautifully, but the signature song that everyone waits for, “The Music of the Night” didn’t have the potency we’ve come to expect.

The scene in the managers’ office was tight, funny, and very well sung. This was the scene that most reminded me of grand opera with the intermingling of voices in perfect union. D.C. Anderson, Michael McCoy, John Whitney, and Nancy Hess added their voices to those already mentioned. As the paper notes flowed in, the musical notes rang out. It was bel canto.

There were two other dance scenes. During the performance of “Il Muto,” dancers in green and white with wreaths as props were allowed a few turns and some lovely port de bras before the Phantom brought it to a scary finish.

During the New Year’s Eve party at the Opéra House in Act Two, the full company in colorful masquerade sang, and the dancers finally had a chance to stretch their legs. It is likely these performers were hired because they had good voices in addition to being dancers. The choreography in “Phantom” is not hugely difficult, but everyone did their pointe work precisely and added greatly to the overall production.

When Raab sang “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” in the Peros cemetery, a true hush fell over the audience. Her performance was greeted with shouts of “Yes!” Clearly she knocked that one into the stands.

Alas, once again the Phantom disappeared, leaving only his mask and the magic of the night.


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