Sunday, October 9, 2011

Faulkner: "The Phantom of the Opera"

Montgomery's newest theatre is presenting the first local area production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's blockbuster musical, The Phantom of the Opera, on the theatre's Grand Opening.

Faulkner University is showcasing its beautiful new state-of-the-art theatre space -- located across the Atlanta Highway from the main campus -- to sold out enthusiastic audiences, about 100 of whom have dinner before the show, and another 80+ are seated in comfortable auditorium seats.

Ever since it opened in London in 1986, Phantom has had a continuous run there, and generated award winning productions in most of the world's major cities as well as countless touring productions.

Vocally demanding of virtually all its principal characters, the story revolves around a physically disfigured Svengali-like musical genius -- the Phantom [Terry Brown] -- who terrorizes an opera company, claiming the opera house belongs to him and demanding that his protege Christine Daae [Alyssa Boyd] must displace the current prima donna Carlotta Giudicelli [Christina Burroughs], and that the leading tenor Ubaldo Piangi [Tony Davison] will also be relegated to minor roles.

Complicating matters is the presence of Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny [Matt Roberson], in love with Christine and her sworn protector from the machinations of the Phantom.

Co-directors Jason Clark South and Angela Dickson, along with a fine pit orchestra conducted by Andrew Cook, have gathered a company of some 42 Faulkner students & faculty and area actors/singers into their 2-hour and 45-minute extravaganza, complimented by lavish period costumes & wigs, and numerous moveable set pieces, some of which are so large and clunky that they overwhelm the playing space and create cumbersome scene changes & crowded staging.

There are some outstanding singers in this company; tops among them is Ms. Burroughs, whose powerfully clear and precise soprano was showcased in several songs, never once faltering in quality and passionate dramatic intensity. She is matched by Mr. Davison's tenor that is rich in their duets, a voice impressive also in Smokey Joe's Cafe earlier this season.

Ms. Boyd -- appropriately for her role as Christine -- has a lighter and sweeter soprano voice that she uses for best effect in quieter reflective moments: "All I Ask of You" and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again". Mr. Roberson's strong baritone compliments Ms. Boyd, but got lost in its lower registers [as did several voices] due in part to the orchestra's volume...some sound balance checks need to be accomodated as Faulkner investigates its new equipment.

Mr. Brown's Phantom sounded shaky for much of the performance; though he reached for and met most of the score's high notes, it was apparent that he struggled for much of the time.

While the voices carry a lot of this production, relationship developments are essential to audience engagement, and here very little chemistry between major characters was evident except between Carlotta and Ubaldo, and in secondary characters. -- One never felt the necessary conflicted attraction between Christine and the Phantom until almost the end of the play; and the romantic attachment between Christine and Raoul was so tentative that actions belied words. -- Perhaps these relationships will develop during the run of the show.

On the other hand, Braxton McDonald and Chase McMichen as M. Firmin and M. Andre, along with Bill Nowell as M. LeFevre, created an excellent comic trio who fed off one another's every gesture and nuanced dialogue. -- And Angela Dickson as Mme. Giry turns in a solid truthful performance; as she provides answers to the mysterious Phantom's background [placed awkwardly in Act II for some reason], it is good to know Ms. Dickson can deliver the goods.

The Faulkner company should soon get used to its new performance space and figure out the best uses of equipment. Several areas of the stage, for example, were either left in darkness or such deep shadow as to render actors almost invisible at important moments of the action. -- Since productions like The Phantom of the Opera require more sophisticated lighting than Faulkner's all-too-few lighting instruments allow, this company and the excellent new space would benefit from a substantial investment in lights.