A Kinder, Gentler Phantom
a lesser-known portrait of the famous opera fan
A shadowy figure, based on a character by French novelist Gaston Leroux, hides from a dark past beneath the Paris Opera House. His face is deformed; he wears a mask. A young singer catches his fancy and he trains her to become the opera’s starring diva, crossing the powerful company establishment. Nasty things start to happen, especially to the theater’s lighting fixtures.
Sound familiar? Maybe like a certain Broadway mega-blockbuster produced by theater heavyweight Andrew Lloyd Webber? Surprise! It’s not: It’s Phantom, by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston (the pair behind the award-winning musical Nine), and it runs at the Westchester Broadway Theatre from December 27 to February 9. Kopit and Yeston actually started work on their musical version of the Leroux novel before Andrew Lloyd Webber but, when he beat them to the stage in London, their version, like the Phantom himself, fell hidden into obscurity. It was later revived by the “Theatre Under the Stars” in Texas, and has found great success in regional theater ever since; in 1992, when the Westchester Broadway Theatre first staged the musical, it ran for almost a year (the longest-running show in WBT history) and attracted 120,000 audience members who wanted to see the Phantom story told by someone who wasn’t responsible for Cats.
The smaller production scale is a great fit for the Kopit/Yeston Phantom because their musical is all-around more of an understated affair, a stylistic choice as much as a necessity. Don’t expect the big, booming solos and showy effects. Yeston’s music is more delicate, sung with perfect fragile vulnerability by leads Aaron Ramey (the Phantom) and Kate Rockwell (Christine; for more with Rockwell, see page 185). The Phantom himself is more human than villain, more haunted than haunter. He even gets to crack a few jokes: after hearing the opera’s star warming up her voice, he responds with a dry, “Yeesh, this place really is haunted.”
That’s not to say that there isn’t any of Broadway’s razzle-dazzle in Phantom. There are some show-stopping moments beyond the famous crashing of the chandelier. With rotating sets, a raised catwalk, and a Phantom’s chamber that rises, fog-covered, from below the stage, the production has more tricks up its sleeve than its title character.
December 27 to February 9
Westchester Broadway Theatre
1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford
Theater Tip: If you’re thinking of bringing kids to the show, note that it is a little on the long side, especially the first act.