IRVING Andrew Lloyd who?
MainStage Irving-Las Colinas opened its production of Phantom, a musical based on Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera, at the Irving Arts Center on Friday. But this is not the one with the big, crashing chandelier that everyone knows so well. Instead, this version features a book by Arthur Kopit and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, the team behind the 1982 Broadway hit Nine.
This show, which debuted in Houston in 1991, never made it to Broadway and has always lived in the shadow of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, which was already an established smash when this version surfaced. But despite that, MainStage’s outstanding production of this surprisingly enduring show (it has been produced more than a thousand times over its long life) makes a strong case for giving this treatment more respect.
There are, of course, a number of similarities between the two musicals. The basic story of a deformed and deranged opera lover who roams the bowels of the Paris Opera House and falls in love with the angelically voiced Christine is at the core of both works. But in Phantom, the title character may have a bit more stage time and is more fully developed.
The other differences are primarily in style. You might think of this version as the American take on the source material. Yeston and Kopit were able to do the show here because of differences in American and British copyright laws. And their take is a decidedly American musical theater approach, with numbers that sometimes call Gershwin to mind.
MainStage’s production, briskly directed by Michael Serrecchia, is bubbling over with talent. Patrick Jones, as the title character (or Erik, to his friends), and Kristen Lassiter, as his beloved Christine Daae, have wonderful voices and play their parts well.
But Kourtney Kimbrough steals the show as the cartoonish diva Carlotta, who is bent on crushing Christine’s aspirations and the Phantom’s dreams. One of the things that separates this show from the better-known one is its use of humor, and Kimbrough carries that load with winking ease.
In addition to a strong cast, which is well supported by a small (but grander than its numbers) pit ensemble led by pianist and music director Adam C. Wright, the show is artfully presented. There are few scenic elements, but the production uses projections brilliantly. Kudos to designer Nate Davis for that. Too few theaters take advantage of such technology, and this company should be applauded for its wisdom in purchasing, rather than just renting, the equipment needed for such presentations.
Complementing these projected backdrops and video elements are some gorgeous period costumes by Michael Robinson.
There are a few weak points, but they are the fault of the show more than the production. There is not much choral work or dance, and the second act bogs down as it tells the Phantom’s story in perhaps more detail than we need.
But, on the whole, this winning production is a pleasant surprise in terms of the music and storytelling, and the quality of work delivered by its amateur cast. You won’t be sprayed with chandelier glass in this one. But you might find this production offers you as much, or more, bang per buck than the Lloyd Webber extravaganza which, coincidentally, opens at Dallas’ Winspear Opera House on Aug. 6.