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PHANTOM at Westchester Broadway Theatre

Matthew Billman              photos Credit: John Vecchiolla


                      By Edward Lieberman


WBT’s 207th production is Phantom, by Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit.

At the outset it must be stated that this is NOT Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, although it shares its provenance with that show, both having been sourced from Gaston Leroux’s 1910 serialized novel “The Phantom of the Opera.” In fact, there have been three musicals based upon the novel: a 1976 British version, entitled Phantom of the Opera by Ken Hill; the Yeston and Kopit version (Phantom), that was intended to play on Broadway, and the Andrew Lloyd Webber mega-hit, The Phantom of the Opera, that premiered in London in 1986.

Yeston and Kopit began work on their show before Lloyd Webber started on his, and were seeking financing for the mounting of a Broadway production when Lloyd Webber announced his intention to stage his version. Their funding immediately dried up, as no one wanted to mount another big musical on the same subject, particularly up against Lloyd Webber, who, by then, had had big success with such blockbusters as Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and Cats. As a result, the Yeston/Kopit project was shelved until 1991, when the show premiered in Houston. After some revisions, it opened in Chicago in 1992, breaking attendance records there. WBT was one of the early converts, mounting its first (of four) productions In 1992-93, which ran for nine months and attracted over 120,000 people to the venue. It remains the most popular production in WBT history. Since then, Phantom has received over 1,000 productions worldwide, prompting Yeston to call it “the greatest hit never to be produced on Broadway.”

Although the two current versions share the same characters and basic story, there are significant differences: the Lloyd Webber version is more operatic in style, with little dialogue and much grand – and by now familiar – music. This version is in the more traditional theatrical format, with dialogue to illuminate the character’s back stories and motivations, although most people will not leave the theater humming the songs.

The show begins with a Paris street scene with a young, beautiful street singer, Christine, who attracts the attention of Count Phillipe, a rich playboy who happens to be a patron of the local opera company. He gives her a card of introduction to the manager of the opera, Gerard, together with a note requesting that they provide her with vocal training to enable her to fulfill her potential. Unfortunately, just before she arrives with Phillipe’s note, Gerard is sacked by new owners, Alain and Carlotta, who purchased the theater as a vehicle to advance Carlotta’s career as a diva. Instead of giving her singlng lessons, the new owners give her a menial job in the costume department.  The Phantom hears Christine’s singing while doing her tasks and takes her under his tutelage, calling himself the “Angel of Music.” During their lessons, the two fall in love, but the Phantom, who wears a mask to hide a horribly deformed face, forbids Christine from seeing his face.

Kayleen Seidl and ensemble


Christine surprises everyone at an open audition and attracts both wanted -–and unwanted -- attention as a future diva and threat to Carlotta’s ambitions. Carlotta appears to graciously defer to Christine’s superior talent, giving her the lead in the upcoming production, but, like the poisoned apple in “Snow White,” Carlotta gives Christine something to drink to calm her nerves before going on stage in her debut that prevents her from singing well, thereby ruining her nascent career. The Phantom, realizing what happened, then brings down his wrath on Carlotta and the rest of the  company, leading to his pursuit and dramatic (looong) death scene, during which Gerard reveals that he is the Phantom’s father.



James Van Treuren and Matthew Billman


The theatrical format of the Yeston/Kopit version leaves room for more variety in staging and storytelling than the operatic version of Lloyd Webber: there is the “The Empire Strikes Back” reveal of the Phantom’s parentage and there is even an element of Gilbert & Sullivan in the staging of the Paris constabulary. 


The cast, made up of a mixture of WBT veterans and those making their debuts at the Theatre, is uniformly excellent. Matthew Billman is suitably imposing as the Phantom, his height accentuated by the two level (three, really, when one considers the innovative center lift of the WBT stage) set. The quality of his voice is evidenced by the fact that his next gig will be with the Jersey Tenors. His counterpart, Christine, is played by Kayleen Seidl, whose clear soprano voice is matched by her beauty. Their chemistry on stage was a joy to behold. Other standouts include WBT veteran Sandy Rosenberg, as the diva (at least in her mind), Carlotta. Ms. Rosenberg, coming off a performance as Sister Mary Lazarus in this year’s WBT production of Sister Act, combined the villainy, as well as the comedic elements of her character, bringing to mind Meryl Streep’s performance as Florence Foster Jenkins, another operatic legend-in-her-own-mind. James Van Treuren, as Gerard, was dramatically excellent in a very demanding role as the link between the Phantom and the outer world. He has performed in all four of WBT’s productions of the show.  Another WBT veteran, Kilty Reidy, as Carlotta’s husband and patron, gave his usual comedic performance in what is now his tenth production at WBT. Rounding out the leading characters, Larry Luck gave a strong performance as Count Phillipe, the third leg of the romantic triangle with Christine and the Phantom.


Not to be outdone by the actors onstage, the crew also acquitted themselves outstandingly. From the very beginning scene, the period costumes and wigs Keith Neilson and Gerard Kelly, respectively, set the appropriate atmosphere for what was to come, as did the elaborate set design by Steve Loftus and Carl Tallent (and yes, there is a chandelier!). 



 Andrew Gmoser outdoes himself in this demanding production, conveying the light street scenes of 1800’s Paris, the interior of the opera house and the darkness of the subterranean crypt inhabited by the Phantom. The sound and music by Mark Zuckerman and Bob Bray, respectively, did not overpower the dialogue of this complicated show. Finally, all these were pulled together by the Director, Tom Polum, who appeared in the original WBT production of Phantom.


In sum, this is a production that provides a worthy counterpoint to that other show pretending to tell the story of the Phantom who haunted the Paris Opera House in the 1880’s!


Phantom is playing at the WBT through November 25, 2018, returning December 27, 2018 – January 27, 2019.


WBT is located at 1 Broadway Plaza, Elsmford, NY 10523.

Box Office: (14) 592-2222, or online at