'Kopit and Yeston's Phantom' is a hit, too

Stage Review

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For a musical enfused with death and dire circumstances, "Kopit and Yeston's Phantom" has the good sense to take a break from the melodrama and go to a light-hearted place now and then. In those moments, the show based on Gaston Geroux's oft-adapted 1910 novel catches the audience off-guard, until suddenly a new scene locks into place and we are reminded of the dangers that lurk within the Paris Opera.

Pittsburgh CLO brings that other "Phantom of the Opera" musical back for a second go-round, and if there's one thing the company gets just right, it's casting. Ron Bohmer is in command in a part that demands a full range of his vocal and emotional powers. His most recent local role was in the play "Around the World in 80 Days" for Pittsburgh Public Theater, but here he gets to open up and reach for the rafters.

He plays the title Phantom, a man doomed to hide his disfigured face behind a mask and live in the shadows. To quench his lifelong pursuit of beauty, he haunts the Paris Opera and uses fear to rule the company until his only confidant (Jamie Ross) is fired as general manager. Just as the Phantom finds the voice he has longed for, crass new owners take over the opera company.

Bad move, mes amis. This is a guy who doesn't deal well with love or disobedience.

Mr. Bohmer's co-star, Erin Mackey, delights as ingenue Christine Daae, with a voice that stands up to a workout after years on the road and on Broadway as "Wicked's" Glinda. The Phantom, entranced by her voice and innocence, becomes her teacher, and her affection grows for her masked mentor.

The Phantom plots to put Christine front and center at the opera, an affront to the new g.m. (Ken Land) and his pompous wife. Donna Lynne Champlin has one of her best roles for CLO as La Carlotta, the diva we love to hate. Her voice is maddening to the Phantom but just right for the tour de force "This Place Is Mine."

Do not come to this "Phantom" expecting the megahit pop opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Maury Yeston (music and lyrics) and Arthur Kopit (book) were beaten to Broadway while creating the musical, and it was shelved until Mr. Yeston revisited the character for a 1990 TV miniseries. The musical finally saw its first production in 1991 and has been a regional favorite in the ensuing years. The songs are more melodic and traditional Broadway than Mr. Webber's "Phantom of the Opera," and, for the most part, less memorable. However, there are moments when you may be romanced by the beauty of selections such as "You Are the Music" or "My True Love."

The version now at the Benedum Center follows a traditional path by telling part of its story -- the reveal of the Phantom's parentage -- in an affecting second-act ballet, with Sarah Blodgett and Gavin Stewart as the principals. It also is a workout for the crew, with scenes and backdrops changing quickly (sometimes noisily on opening night) and lighting cues that must keep up with the Phantom as he lurks above or in the background of the action.

Director/choreographer Barry Ivan and music director Tom Helm are pros at pulling together a big show and making it seem effortless, and "Kopit and Yeston's Phantom" is no exception. This show never made it to New York, but here in Pittsburgh, Broadway-caliber voices make it sing.

"Kopit and Yeston's Phantom"

Where: Pittsburgh CLO at the Benedum Center, Downtown.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $10-$65.75; pittsburghCLO.org or 412-456-6666.


Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.


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