Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Phantom of the Opera (Baldwin Wallace College)


Baldwin Wallace’s Music Theatre Program is consistently recognized as one of the finest educational experiences for students interested in musical performing arts. Under the sage leadership of Victoria Bussert, graduates have gone on to successful careers in various phases of the theatre including starring on and off-Broadway.

It is no wonder, with the reputation of the program, when there was an investigation to designate several schools to do the first amateur productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA,’ that BW was chosen.

The show deservedly ran from November 6 to 18, to sold out houses. Performed by two different casts, this dual approach gave more students a chance to perform major roles. In addition, due to the vocal difficulty of the score, it allowed for conservation of the voices in training.

‘ THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA’ is based on the novel by Gaston Leroux. The music was composed by Webber, with lyrics by Charles Hart and additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe.

The story focuses on Christine Daaé, a beautiful young performer who becomes the obsession of a mysterious, disfigured musical genius known as "The Phantom of the Opera," who terrorizes the Paris Opera. It was a smash hit in London and New York.

Normally, I do not review college performances, but since the BW production was a world amateur debut, I am breaking the pattern.

Phantom is a difficult show. It has a very complex score. It requires massive sets, numerous special effects, many period costumes and a large and very talented cast. It is a challenge for professionals, let alone the limits of a college budget and on and off stage talent.

Bussert wisely altered the script so that some of the special effects could be eliminated. The famous crashing to the stage floor of the chandelier was modified and the boat floating on water was eliminated. It mattered little. The overall effect was positive. This was a very, very good production.

Emily Leonard, who played Christine ,was enchanting. Pretty and petite, her voice was radiant. Her acting was believable, even when saying Webber’s over-stylized lines. This young lady is Broadway ready!

Handsome Paul Rawlings portrayed Raoul, Christine’s lover. He has a fine voice and a dashing air that fit the role well.

Erin Childs belted out the role of Carlotta, the opera diva who Christine has replaced. She properly overdid the role. Why Bussert had Childs and several other members of the cast present their lines to the audience, rather than directing them at the person to whom they were speaking, is a mystery. Kate Merrick was excellent as the ballet mistress who has a special relationship with the Phantom.

Unfortunately, Javar Parker, who played the role of the Phantom the night I saw the show, was not as strong as needed. He has a pleasant voice, but the role requires more vocal abilities than he displayed. His acting stayed on the surface and he was often difficult to hear, in spite of being miked.

The singing and dancing choruses were excellent. The choreography by Janiece Kelley-Kiteley and Associate Choreographer Martin Cespedes was excellent.

The orchestra, under the direction of Stuart Raleigh, was superb. There was a full sound, and the complicated musical arrangements were easily handled.

Jeff Herrmann’s scenic and lighting designs were outstanding. Charlotte Yetman’s costumes, which were era correct, were amazing in their detail.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: BW’s ‘THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, though not of professional level, was much more than anyone would expect from a college production. Bravo!!!