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Stylish 'Phantom' Scores Hit at Bair

November 19th 1992
Written for the Billings Gazette by Christene C. Meyers

A jam-packed house of more than 1,400 people saw a wonderfully staged production of "The Phantom of the Opera" Wednesday night at the Alberta Bair Theater. And two more full houses will enjoy a pair of sold-out shows Thursday. This stylishly staged London musical, by Ken Hill, features the strains of Verdi, Gounod, Offenbach, Mozart, Donizetti and others not Andrew Lloyd Webber. But everyone was aware of the difference and many were glad for it. Having seen the Webber version both in London and New York, I'm happy to say this is its equal, and in some ways, more touching and effective and much less schmaltzy. It is also, like the Webber work, a comedy, with plenty of high camp, low humor and double entendres.

The cast plays it straight, as one does in good, authentic melodrama. And Hill has a fine notion of what amuses and holds an audience. Lise Brown is lithe and lovely as Christine and Cynthia Donaldson's imperious Carlotta is a steaming, fuming dervish of energy and arrogance. Both are perfectly cast. Fred Foster is grand as the manager of the opera house, with his faithful sidekick Remy nicely drawn by Jack A. Matter. A running bit has Remy finishing Richard's sentences, which had the audience howling with delight.

In the play within the play, Vincent Hardy is a dandy, strutting Mephistopholes, and we're sorry when he's killed off. Ross Halper's Faust is terrific comic relief, truly larger than life, and Lucy Sorlucco's Madame Giry is effectively gothic in her incantations and (unheeded) warnings. All of the cast is top-notch. Michael Park as Raoul, longing for Christine's love, and Michelle Rosen as Jammes, who can't stop her ballerina's antics, even fashioning a barre at one point of Raoul's arm so she can continue rehearsing, are both wonderful.

Todd Alan Johnson's tormented, though but tender Phantom had several members of the packed house sniffling with emotion. He moved gracefully and used his hands, body and voice well in a part that demands strength and delicacy from an actor. While every player is effective, John Lynch just may have the most fun of all, playing priest, old man, grave digger, Debienne the bookkeeper and a swashbuckling Cockney groomsman. ("We always use Englishmen to look after the horses," says Madame Giry. "They get on so well.")

Handsome production design by Sarah Jane McClelland with lovely drops by Liz Reed are enhanced by John McLain's expert, mood-setting lighting. Music director Jack Mezzano is at the keyboards, complimented by oboe, cello, percussion, French horn and bass. And there are plenty of minor chords to sustain the suspense. The company used the space of 14 of the 1,418 seats for the excellent sound system. So that means 4, 212 people will have seen "Phantom" by midnight tonight plus a couple dozen ushers and "SRO's" who enjoyed the production too. The management said there was virtually no chance for a ticket for either Thursday performance unless a chandelier should fall somewhere on someone who just happens to have a pair of orchestra seats in his pocket.