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CLO brings 'other' Phantom to town

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 7:00 a.m.

It's no exaggeration to say the “Phantom of the Opera” has had its share of success on stages around the world. Countless T-shirts, coffee mugs and other memorabilia would attest to the show's mass appeal.

But not all fans of this tale of music, obsession, love and loss may be aware there are two separate musical interpretations of the story.

There is the mega-hit version by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart that's been breaking run records in the West End and on Broadway for more than 25 years.

And then there is a lesser-known version of “Phantom” by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston, which the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera will perform Friday through June 30 at the Benedum Center.

CLO veteran actor Paul Palmer, who is playing the Minister of Culture, said choosing between the two versions doesn't have to be an either/or equation for fans of the story. He said the Kopit and Yeston show gives audiences more back story on the Phantom.

“I love the Lloyd Webber version, but there's not a lot of explanation there as to why (the Phantom is) there,” Palmer said.

The CLO show offers greater insight into the relationship the Phantom has with the head of the opera house and the circumstances that led to the house's hidden secret.

“It's a much more defined story,” Palmer said. “And the music is absolutely glorious.”

Palmer, who is a veteran of 34 CLO summer seasons and played the Preacher in last week's “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” said the production is using top-notch Broadway and local talent.

One actor who meets both criteria is Donna Lynne Champlin, who will play La Carlotta. Champlin graduated with high honors from Carnegie Mellon University's musical theater program and has performed in numerous Broadway and off-Broadway productions. She's also a regular with the CLO.

Palmer noted Ron Bohmer, who plays the Phantom, is another stand-out talent who possesses a great lyric tenor voice. Bohmer is a frequent soloist with symphony orchestras across the country and has an impressive résumé that includes Broadway, touring and off-Broadway shows. He was Billy in CLO's production of “Anything Goes.”

“This is one where you blink and you miss me,” Palmer said of his role as the Minister of Culture.

Bohmer's character calls the shots on who is hired and fired at the opera house.

Legend has it that Kopit and Yeston had just completed writing their show when they read the news in Variety that the Andrew Lloyd Webber show was going into production in London.

Broadway plans for the Kopit and Yeston version quickly fell through and the show was destined to wait until 1991 before it was produced at Theater Under the Stars in Texas. The show was adapted for an NBC miniseries in the 1990s.

Palmer said a great thing about CLO casting is “the intent is always to bring in talent,” as opposed to big name stars for the sake of the big name, to sell tickets.

It's a philosophy that draws comparison to the immediate show. It may be the lesser known “Phantom,” but it is a “Phantom” designed to entertain just the same.

“It's a gem,” Palmer said.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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