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Review: CLO presents 'Phantom' that's lighter, quicker than Webber's

| Sunday, June 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Matt Polk
Ron Bohmer as The Phantom and Erin Mackey as Christine in 'Kopit & Yeston's Phantom' presented by Pittsburgh CLO.
Matt Polk
Ron Bohmer as The Phantom and Erin Mackey as Christine in 'Kopit & Yeston's Phantom' presented by Pittsburgh CLO.
Matt Polk
Donna Lynne Champlin as Carlotta in 'Kopit and Yeston's Phantom' presented by Pittsburgh CLO.

“Kopit & Yeston's Phantom” seems to be forever doomed to be known as “the other Phantom.”

Back in the 1980s, playwright Arthur Kopit and composer and lyricist Maury Yeston were working on their musical adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel when Andrew Lloyd Webber's spectacle-filled musical opened in London and dropped its chandelier on their plans.

Kopit & Yeston's musical has had 1,000 independent productions since then, while Webber's became the longest-running show in Broadway history.

Maybe what the Kopit/Yeston version needs is re-branding.

If the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera production that opened June 21 is any guide, the show should more accurately be termed “the lighter, faster and funnier ‘Phantom.' ”

In place of Webber's extravagant rock-opera score with its dramatically punctuated chords, Yeston's music follows a more traditional musical theater format that begins with a waltzy, upbeat “Melodie de Paris.”

That sets the pace for the evening, even in darker moments when the Phantom gives us his counter-perspective in “Paris Is a Tomb” or when Donna Lynne Champlin's Carlotta voices her diva agenda in the comedic “This Place Is Mine.”

Kopit's script concentrates more on character than Gothic thrills.

The playwright gives the Phantom a name — Erik — and a back story that explains his past and how he came to live in the dark, dank, watery confines below the Paris Opera House. He and actor Ron Bohmer give us a dark and unhappy Erik who also has a wry sense of humor. He's far more sympathetic and less of a creepy stalker than Webber's Phantom.

That makes it easier to see why Christine is drawn to her unseen, mysterious mentor who brings out the best in her voice.

Not that that would be a heavy task. From the opening number, Erin Mackey displays a lovely, lilting voice both in her duets with Erik — “You Are Music” — and with her aristocratic suitor Philippe — “Who Could Have Dreamed You Up” — and in her solo “My True Love.”

Jamie Ross turns in a nuanced and touching performance as Erik's protector, Gerard Carriere.

The musical begins by introducing the many characters and storylines and setting the evening's pace with short scenes that move swiftly through an impressive number of locations.

Director and choreographer Barry Ivan keeps that pace throughout as Paris Opera company members scheme, threaten or are threatened, fall in love and pursue their separate but intertwined agendas.

Drops, wings and borders fly in and out, and set pieces appear and disappear swiftly and seamlessly thanks to scenery provided by Theatre Under the Stars and an efficient crew of technicians.

The show retains the period feel of the Paris of Leroux's 1910 novel as well as the ambiance of an old-fashioned operetta romance. That impression is enhanced by a large ensemble that dances, sings and fills in the background in the cafe, the streets of Paris and the Opera House performances.

In scenes set onstage and backstage at the Paris Opera, the chandelier that became Webber's signature piece remains in the background, allowing characters and story to be the center of attention.

While “Kopit & Yeston's Phantom” will never surpass the emotional and visual impact and excesses of Webber's, it is a thoroughly pleasant night at the Opera.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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