Words nearly fail me as I attempt to describe the impressiveness of Phantom currently playing at Creighton University. Simply put, this is the best play I have seen this season and this show will stand, at the very least, shoulder to shoulder with anything produced on the community theatre circuit this year.
Based off of Gaston Leroux’s novel, The Phantom of the Opera, this musical tells the story of a disfigured musical genius who falls in love with a farm girl (Christine Daee) now living in Paris. So enthralled is he with her voice, that he trains her to become the leading performer at the Paris Opera House. When Christine is sabotaged by a jealous rival and recoils from the hideous face of her anonymous mentor, the deformed man resorts to vengeance.
Though this play is a musical, do not confuse it with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of this tale. This musical was written by Arthur Kopit with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston around the same time as Lloyd Webber’s take. Once Lloyd Webber’s musical exploded onto the scene, this show lost all of its financial backing and seemed doomed never to see the light of day. It eventually was produced in 1991 and has been steadily produced since that time.
This show takes a number of liberties with the source material, but this, in no way, weakens the power of the story. Thanks to expert direction from Alan Klem, what we get is a show that is guaranteed to move you to the depths of your soul.
Kudos need to be given to this entire cast. Experienced performers could take a lesson from this troupe of college students as each and every individual always plays the moment and stays involved in the action of the story. That being said, this show also contained a number of standout performances.
Ryan Malone is exceptionally well cast as Erik, the titular Phantom. His Phantom is far more sympathetic than ones from the novel and other versions of the tale. Malone imbues his Erik with an almost childlike quality. He is darkly innocent in the sense that he has known nothing, but the bowels of the Opera House and the music that has salved his soul. But he does rule the Opera and woe to anyone who violates his rules or his desires. Malone smoothly reveals this menace early on when he justifies his killing of an intruder into his domain with a simple, “He broke the rules.” Malone also has mastered the fine art of body language, using it to communicate his emotions such as anguish when Christine flees from his hideous face. Malone possesses a fine baritone voice, excelling in such numbers as “Paris is a Tomb”, “You are Music” and “You are My Own”.
Chelsey Hill is astonishingly amazing as Christine Daee. With a crystal clear soprano voice, Ms Hill delights the crowd with such tunes as “Melodie de Paris” and “My True Love”. Her Christine has a beautiful sweetness and innocence about her. Ms Hill also does a tremendous job handling the conflicted feelings of love she has for both The Count de Chandon, who helps get her into the Paris Opera House and the Phantom who develops the potential of her voice. Her reaction at seeing the unmasked Erik says more than words ever will.
Colleen Kilcoyne sparkles in a delightfully hammy performance as Carlotta, one of the new owners of the Opera House and its leading lady. Carlotta is a diva in every sense of the word and Ms Kilcoyne plays it to the hilt, exemplified in the song “This Place is Mine”. She rules with an iron fist and fancies herself the world’s greatest singer when, in reality, she is a loud screecher. She is also cold blooded and callous, cruelly sabotaging Christine to retain her bought position as the ingénue of the Opera.
Patrick Kilcoyne gives a haunting performance as Gerard Carriere, the former managing director of the Opera House who is forced out by Carlotta and her husband near the start of the play. Carriere has a mysterious connection with the Phantom whom he has tried to protect over the years. Blessed with a powerful and rich bass voice, Kilcoyne brilliantly essays emotions such as frustration, anger, tenderness, and love. His duet with Erik, “You Are My Own”, nearly brought me to tears.
Also good were Matt Karasek as Philippe, the Count de Chandon and Michael Conroy as Inspector Ledoux. Karasek has a natural charm well suited to Philippe who initially appears as a gadabout, but displays genuine love for Christine. Conroy provided some terrific comedic moments as the chief of the Parisian police force.
Bill Van Deest is to be commended for his amazing set. Taking us from the streets of Paris to the catacombs of the Phantom, I often forgot this was not a professional production. Stephen Sheftz and his orchestra also deserve praise for their stellar musicianship.
Phantom plays for one more weekend at Creighton University’s Lied Education Center for the Arts (Mar 27-30). Showtimes are 7:30 pm Mar 27-29 and 2pm on Mar 30. Tickets are $5, $15, or $18. Reservations can be made at boxoffice.creighton.edu or at 402-280-1448. Creighton University is located at 2500 California Plaza, Omaha, NE 68178.