MainStage Irving-Las Colinas
Director – Michael Serrecchia
Music Director – Adam C. Wright
Choreographer – Megan Kelly Bates
Scenic Design – Joseph Cummings
Lighting Design – Sam Nance
Costume Design – Michael Robinson, Dallas Costume Shoppe
Properties – JoAnne Hull
Projection Design and Animation – Nate Davis
Sound Design – Robin Stephens
Stage Manager – Jill Stephens
Patrick Jones – The Phantom/Erik
Kristen Lassiter – Christine Daeé
Kourtney Kimbrough – Carolotta
John Wenzel – The Count de Chandon/Philippe
James Williams – Gerard Carriere
Tony Adams – Inspector LeDoux
Martin Guerra – Jean-Claude/Stage Manager
Preston Isham – Minister of Culture
Ika Chigogidze – Belladova
Matt Rafanelli – Young Erik
Dan Servetnick – Cholet
Wes Cantrell – Young Carriere
Male Ensemble – Magdiel Carmona, Bolt Harvey, Bronze Chance Hill, Alexandru Istrate
Female Ensemble – Sarah Comley Caldwell, Vicki Dean, Caroline Dubberly, Jacie Hood, Rachel Leigh Marek
Opera Ballet Corp – Michael Albee, Wes Cantrell, Claire DeJean, Preston Isham, Jennifer Obeney, Heather Shore.
Ellen Kaner and Jennifer Hunter – Flute/piccolo
Christy Springer – Clarinet
Nathaniel T. Collins – Percussion
Adam C. Wright – Piano
Reviewed Performance 7/25/2014
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Most lovers of musical theater have an immediate reaction to the title, The Phantom of the Opera. The popular musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber has played around the world since 1986 and it is the default production we associate with the story. The novel, The Phantom of the Opera, was first published as a serial of articles by Gaston Leroux in Paris around 1910. The story became popular in America in a 1925 film with Lon Chaney and then exploded in 1986 with Webber’s adaptation.
But there was another musical score about Leroux’s Phantom that was being written around the same time Webber and Hart wrote theirs, this one by Maury Yeston, with book by Arthur Kopit. When Webber’s musical came to Broadway in 1986, Yeston stopped writing, but took it up again in 1991 with Kopit after they collaborated on the Tony Award -winning musical, Nine. Yeston and Kopit’s Phantom opened in Houston in 1991 and this is the version playing in the Dupree Theater at MainStage Irving-Los Colinas.
Whereas Webber’s musical focuses on Christine’s story, Yeston and Kopit tell Erik’s (The Phantom) story; where he came from, why the mask, and why he grew up in the catacombs below the Paris Opera House. This helps put the Phantom’s relationships with everyone in perspective and follows Gaston Leroux’s novel more closely.
Director Michael Serrecchia pulled together an outstanding cast and production crew, including Adam C. Wright as Musical Director and Megan Kelly Bates as Choreographer. Serrecchia commands respect just based on his background, but he’s also one of several directors in DFW who regularly create watchable and enjoyable productions, often award winning. Phantom certainly fits that pattern.
Technically, Phantom was fairly simple. Stage sets were basic and movable and the artistic setting was mostly created by projections. Joseph Cummings gets credit for scenic design and made it so understated on the deep Dupree Theater stage that the few pieces were easily moved on and off by the ensemble as part of the continuing action. The most complex stage piece consisted of two linked stairways allowing actors to ascend and descend to every height and depth of the Opera House. Lighting for various stage areas were straight forward most of the time, except for some special lighting effects. But where Sam Nance, Lighting Designer, really let his lights shine was in making the lighting interact smoothly with the scrims and screens on which scenery was projected, such as a frequent interplay of a front scrim through which one sees actors playing, while moving images were also projected into the scene.
The projections were designed by Nate Davis in what was one of the most innovative slide shows I’ve seen on a local stage. Scenes of the exterior and interior of the Opera House, the Phantom’s cave, the tunnels and waterways in the catacombs, multiple moving images on the same surface, projections that enveloped the stage to make it look larger - all of these tricks set the atmosphere for each scene and allowed us to instinctively identify with a location. Images started small and grew to fill the space, making the stage area pulsate with the action and the music. All of this was coordinated with Nance’s lighting in a kind of dance. As a techie at heart, the whole process fascinated me.
Sound design for a stage show is often complex, made more so by live musicians and many actors using microphones onstage. Robin Stephens and his crew did a fantastic job of controlling this technical challenge. The sound balance between live music and actors singing was always right and the balance between singing and talking was perfect, as was the balance between soloists and ensemble singers. Of course, as in any good phantom story, there were sound effects and these coordinated well with stage action and lighting effects.
JoAnne Hull and her team provided a large number of simple props for the actors that blended seamlessly into the story without stealing focus from the acting. Michael Robinson of Dallas Costume Shoppe outdid himself with a large number of costumes reflecting Paris of the 1870’s. They filled the stage with a cornucopia of colors, styles and textures. Each actor wore multiple costumes, including some spectacularly quick changes. The large ensemble played different characters in different costumes, but I saw no scrimping and saving there. Each fit the period credibly and lavishly. Christine, for instance, radiated in simple, floor-length dresses in lighter shades which contrasted with Erik’s long black cape, black pants and red accents. His mask covered most of his face but cleverly allowed him space to sing without obstruction. And diva Carlotta dressed in elegant gowns, often outlandish in coloring and accessories.
Five musicians made up the orchestra. Musical Director Adam C. Wright conducted while also playing piano. Flute and piccolo were played by Ellen Kaner and Jennifer Hunter with clarinet played by Christy Springer. Nathaniel T. Collins created the many percussive sounds in the score. Playing from the orchestra pit, the group was not seen, but created music for twenty complex orchestrations and they deserved great credit for sounding larger than merely five. The score is different from what we’ve come to know in Webber’s Phantom, and Wright directed this cast to sing these new complex songs with operatic precision. Most of the cast are likely not trained in opera, though all were outstanding, musical theater singers. Opera singers blended extraordinarily well with the rest and the overall effect was credibly operatic in style.
Of course, the Paris Opera House was about dance as well, and Megan Kelly Bates created lavish and ornate choreography and stage movement for players who often played several parts and danced several styles, including some wonderful ballet sequences. A shining example was a dance performed by Ika Chigogidze, who played Belladova, Erik’s mother, during “The Story of Erik.” This long story involved the youthful Erik, Gerrard Carriere and Belladova in the catacombs and Chigogidze performed an interpretive dance through several sequences that contrasted a sad story with evoking beauty. The sequence ended with a candle light chant and dance number by the ensemble that was mesmerizing.
Phantom is the story of Erik and so we should start with him. Erik was played by Patrick Jones. A recent voice Masters graduate of UNT, his operatic training gave him both a powerful stage presence and magnificent voice for the songs, ten of which were either solos by him or duets with him. He was precise with his musicality and embodied each song like it was a comfortable suit. His wide vocal range from baritone to tenor gave him no trouble in the highs and lows of his songs, even when he sang quietly and tenderly. As an actor, he embraced the pathos of the phantom, from his inner rage against his deformity, especially as it played out with Christine, to the deep love he felt for her and for Carriere. “My Mother Bore Me” is Erik’s lament, a song he sings after he reveals his face to Christine, and probably the signature song for this Phantom. Like Javert singing “Stars” in Les Miserables, Jones powerfully expressed his deep anguish – emotionally and operatically perfect. This could be the song you remember when you leave the performance.
Erik’s love, of course, is the young ingénue, Christine Daeé. She is the main subject of the Webber Phantom, but she’s a love interest in Yeston’s version, albeit the critical catalyst forcing Erik to self-discovery. Kristen Lassiter played Christine with the innocence of a girl from the French countryside. Lassiter is a trained opera singer in the cast, but she also has a wide experience in local theater acting roles. Her soprano voice was pure of tone and precise in her phrasings, every word understandable as well as touching. She had a powerful vocal range that could hit the highest soprano notes without strain. She sang either lead or duet in many songs and, especially in those with Jones’ Erik, her voice was sweet and blended smoothly with him like they’d sang together for years. Lassiter also showed a wide range in her acting, playing Christine as innocent and naïve, as when she was first invited to “audition” for the opera, and tender and loving when she learned Erik’s story. But she also displayed a strength and confidence when she dueled with Carlotta during “The Bistro.”
Carlotta was played by Kourtney Kimbrough. As the new Diva of the Opera House, she both enrages the Phantom and thwarts Christine’s efforts. Kimbrough is not an operatic singer but had a powerful voice with a broad, ballsy alto range that could shake the rafters. She commanded the stage with a presence that made you sit up in your chair and then she stole your heart. Kimbrough was delightfully evil - when she poisons Christine, we knew exactly what she was doing and loved watching her do it. She embraced Carlotta fully, allowing her to be the laughing stock of the opera company and comic relief for an appreciative audience. Sounds crazy, but I kept seeing Thenardier, not Madame Thenardier, but him. She had that much fun! When she belted “This Place is Mine,” we understood her. “A Diva’s work is never done.”
There were other good singers and songs in Phantom. Philippe, the Count de Chandon, is the alternate suitor for Christine. Played by John Wenzel, he sang a wonderful duet with Christine. Gerard Carriere, played by James Williams, was the displaced manager of the Opera House and many things were revealed about him as he confronts Erik and tells the catacombs story to Christine. Williams has a duet with Patrick Jones in “You Were My Own” which was a touching moment of people finding each other after years of absence. The supporting cast was so good, both acting and singing, I could write another review on them alone.
And the ensemble of fifteen actors who played the minor roles danced, sang, and acted their hearts out to support the story. Together they gave this musical the magnificent sense of a full out, Broadway production.
MainStage Irving-Los Colinas’ Phantom is tremendous entertainment. It’ll tell you more about the story you might have guessed, but never got to know from the Webber version. And it will introduce you to a whole new score of Phantom songs. Under bold direction, the outstanding cast of actors, singers, and dancers may have you standing at the end shouting, “Bravo! and Brava!” It’s opera, you know. I heartily recommend this show.
MainStage Irving-Los Colinas
Dupree Theater, Irving Arts Center
3333 N. MacArthur Blvd.
Irving, TX 75062
Plays through August 9th
Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:30 pm. An additional performance is Thursday, August 7th at 8:00 pm.
Ticket prices on Friday, Saturday and Sunday are $24.00 and $22.00 for seniors/students. Thursday prices are $21.00 and $19.00 for seniors and students.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to at www.irvingtheatre.org or call the box office at 972-252-2782.