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July 12, 2010

MPA's 'Phantom,' while full of talent, falls short

Gaston Leroux's 1910 French novel "Phantom of the Opera" is a gripping story about a mysterious masked man who lurks in the shadows of the Paris Opera.

It has drama, glamor, romance, thrills and horror. So why is Modesto Performing Arts' musical "Phantom," now at Modesto High School, largely so dull?

With the notable exceptions of the flashback scenes about the Phantom's birth and the tragic conclusion, this version of the story fails to generate much excitement.

First let it be said that this is a completely different show than the much more famous 1986 Andrew Lloyd Webber version "Phantom of the Opera," which is the longest-running musical in Broadway history.

MPA is instead presenting the 1991 musical written by Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit ("Nine") and it includes no crashing chandelier or gondola ride on an underground gloomy river.

Director Paul Tischer is taking the minimalist approach and is using a single gray castlelike set that splits into different parts. It doesn't work because there is no contrast between the colorful, fantastic world of the opera and the phantom's dark life in the catacombs below. All we get is darkness.

Yeston's music is lovely and emotional but there are no standout hit songs and some seem strangely chipper and out of place for such a dark storyline.

Still, Colin Porter is an engaging Phantom with a powerful, deep voice. A graduate from University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music, he has operatic training.

Dwight Mahabir nearly steals the show as Carriere, the manager of the Paris Opera. He demonstrates a considerable gift for storytelling when he recounts the Phantom's history in the second act. At Sunday's opening performance, he and Porter got cheers for their duet.

Meghan Taylor, who plays the Phantom's love interest Christine, is able to perform some impressive vocal acrobatics and convey tenderness to the masked man. Jared Amaral is dashing as her protector, the Count de Chanon.

David Barbaree is underused as the harried theater manager and Dawn Peterson doesn't get enough opportunities to throw temper tantrums as his wife, the prima donna singer Carlotta.

Costume designer Gini Vyborney adeptly sets the 1880s time period by finding stunning long ball gowns and sharp black tuxedos for the cast to wear.

Conductor Darrel Lingenfelter guides the large orchestra in providing lush accompaniment for the performers.

But all the talent in this production isn't enough to make up for the show's shortcomings. The fact is there's just not enough theatricality in this consummate tale about the theater.

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at or 578-2313.

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