Phantom – Review by Tom Holehan

No, it’s not that one. Currently onstage at the Westchester Broadway Theatre is Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s “Phantom”, not ever to be confused with the Andrew Lloyd Webber behemoth that has been landlocked on Broadway since 1986. This breezier, dare I suggest better musical version of Gaston Leroux’s classic horror story, “The Phantom of the Opera”, has much to recommend in its own right. And it feels comfortably at home at the Elmsford, New York dinner theatre.

This is the second visit for “Phantom” at WBT which had a record-breaking run at the theatre in July 1992 running until April 1993. It’s easy to see why. “Phantom” has all the bells and whistles that have made the Broadway version such an enduring hit. Lush music? Check. Rich, period costumes and sets? Check. A dramatic plot heightened by forbidden romance? Check and check. “Phantom” is, of course, the story of an embittered, disfigured man (Matthew Billman) living in the bowels of the Paris Opera House and terrifying anyone who threatens his secret life. His is a lonely existence until he meets and falls immediately in love with the theatre’s new soprano, Christine Daee (Kelsey Self). Unfortunately, his happiness is going to be short-lived.

Yeston’s melodic score has plenty to recommend beginning with “Melodies de Paris”, which opens the musical on a lyrical note, and continues to the soaring “You Are Music” and my personal favorite, “Home”, a thrilling duet sung gloriously at WBT by Self and Billman. Both leads satisfy here for reasons more than just sheer talent. Billman is making his professional theatre debut in one of the world’s most popular musical roles and Self stepped in as understudy (for Kayleen Seidl) the night I caught the show. Both were flawless in their roles. Billman may push here and there, but he is every inch the Phantom, filling the stage with his oversized gothic presence and booming tenor voice. Even more impressive is Self, plucked from the ensemble, one imagines, without a whole lot of preparation to nonetheless deliver a highly polished performance. Sandy Rosenberg is broadly amusing playing the gorgon Carlotta, the new owner of the opera house who fancies herself a star and James Van Treuren is a dashing Carriere, the Phantom’s dedicated assistant whose true identity is withheld until a crucial moment.

Director Tom Polum’s slick direction never allows the production to get bogged down in opera outlandishness keeping it within human scale and Bob Bray’s musical direction truly honors Yeston’s sumptuous score. Keith Nielsen’s lovely period costuming seems exactly right along with Andrew Gmoser’s fine-tuned lighting. “Phantom” may not have the pedigree that its bombastic Broadway brother has, but many should find it just as entertaining an evening of theatre. And you get dinner, too!

“Phantom” continues at the Westchester Broadway Theatre through November 25 taking a break for the holidays then returning to complete its run, December 27-January 27 (2019). Over the holidays, WBT will be presenting the musical version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” from November 29-December 23. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 914.592.2222 or visit: www.BroadwayTheatre.com.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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