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Published: Saturday, 12/28/2002

Fabulous `Phantom' cast steals hearts at Stranahan


The lyrics may say, “The Phantom of the Opera is there, inside your mind,” but last night the Phantom was in the Stranahan Theater, and he brought down the house.

Phantom, which is playing at the Stranahan through Jan. 19, has all of the elements of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway show: the chandelier; the gondola ride through the shadowy labyrinth, even the elephant.

But most of all, it has the voices. Songs such as “Phantom of the Opera,” “All I Ask of You,” and “Wishing You Were Here Again,” are so well known that the slightest hesitation and faltering will be pounced upon and picked apart by fans of musical theater.

The national tour does itself proud. Phantom, based on the 1911 novel by Gaston Leroux, is a Victorian potboiler, heavy on the melodrama. What Webber uses to make it rise above the ordinary are spectacle and heart.

The former is provided by the costumes, the grand set pieces, and the special effects, including a host of candles rising from a misty lake. It's a feast for the eyes.

The heart is provided by the superb cast. Not for his tours does Webber use second bananas. These are professionals, with voices and acting skills to match.

There were sequences in the first act when Rebecca Pitcher seemed tentative and breathy as she sang. But her power in the second act made it obvious that the initial impression was deliberate, a way to show the inexperience and apprehension of her character, Christine Daae, a young soprano in the chorus of the Paris Opera House in the mid-1800s.

Christine has acquired a mysterious mentor who has been training her voice. Unbeknownst to her, it is the Phantom (Ted Keegan), a horribly disfigured genius who hides in the bowels of the opera house. The Phantom has fallen in love with Christine and will do anything to make her love him.

As long as Christine and the opera's producers do as the Phantom says, all is well, but they don't for long. Christine falls in love with the dashing opera patron Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Tim Martin Gleason).

As for the producers, they have a star in Carlotta Giudicelli (Kim Stengel), who has no intention of allowing a chorus upstart to steal her thunder.

As the title character, Keegan not only rises to the challenge of such songs as “Music of the Night,” and “Phantom of the Opera,” he manages to make the Phantom sympathetic, not an easy task.

Gleason is equally good, turning Raoul into a worthy adversary.

The production is simply first rate. The show may not please someone looking for a meaty, thought-provoking story, but for what it is and the care with which it's presented, this Phantom steals hearts.

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