The mysterious masked figure of Gaston's Leroux's popular 1911 novel, "The Phantom of the Opera," whose ghastly disfigurement has made him an outcast, has been the intriguing subject over the years of a series of sensational films and stage productions.
Most notable of the stage works is Andrew Lloyd Webber's Tony Award-winning adaptation.
Now a new musical rendition of the enduring tale, boasting an outstanding score inspired by the music of Peter Tchaikovsky, is being staged by the Harlequin Dinner Theatre in Rockville through April 12.
Differing from the dark romanticism of the Webber musical, the fresh adaptation composed by David H. Bell, Tom Sivak and Cheri Coons for Chicago's Drury Lane Theatre is more of a broad comic melodrama than a moody, serious story.
Directed with overall panache by Michael McFadden, the Harlequin show is an elegant one.
Giant candelabras and a red-draped decor throughout the theater set the proper early century Parisian ambience.
This highly entertaining presentation is at its best when it reaches almost operatic proportions. The voices of the 18-member cast are all excellent and most are of professional classical caliber.
There are 23 impressive numbers altogether, but the first act -- with six scenes and 16 songs -- is much too long.
The length is due to the unnecessary concentration by the playwrights on extraneous characters and their troubles when the emphasis should center on the phantom, his awful loneliness, his passionate dedication to music and his desperate need for love and acceptance by a cruel society.
The Phantom (Erik), the doomed offspring of a forbidden love, has been hidden since birth in the maze of catacombs and cellars of the opera building. A character with conflicting urges of tenderness and savagery, he mysteriously guides the young HTC Christine to glorious stardom.
Harlequin's musical director Steven M. Bishop has done a splendid job of programming the computerized music. One would think there is a full orchestra somewhere on stage.
In this other point of view, Raoul, the son of the late owner of the opera house, is the main character. He is played with charming earnestness by Michael S. Sharp, who possesses a fine tenor voice.
The first-rate score includes the mournful love song "Without You," which features the deep, rich baritone of Ernest C. Lewis, who plays the title role. Lewis is convincing, but he lacks the magical, mystical and haunting qualities that have always distinguished this timeless character.
Lynn Sharp Spears' lovely soprano lends poignancy to the moving "Rest, Child" number. Holly Shockey, a sweet, lilting soprano, makes a credible Christine.
Patricia Pearce, with her full-bodied, ringing soprano and hilarious comical interpretation of the wicked diva Carlotta, is absolutely terrific. Mischa Kischkum amuses as Carlotta's foolish husband.
Good performances are also given by the show's choreographer Angela Caban as Meg and Stephen R. Hayes, who plays a variety of cameo roles. Mark Brandon and David-Israel Marcus delight as a blatantly nefarious pair.
Tonight at 8 p.m. marks the final curtain for "Plays from Prison," a program of two searing one-acts -- "Ladies in Waiting" by Peter DeAnda and "The Island" by Athol Fugard -- that are being given effective treatment by students of the Towson State University theater department.
Mounted in the Mainstage Theatre, both have been directed with a forceful yet meticulous hand by Mahmood Karimi-Hakak.
"Ladies in Waiting" deals with black/white relationships and the vulnerability of the human condition. Allison Adams, Michelle James, Ivana Jackson, Traci Kyle and Jennifer Moore all need to give their roles greater character projection.
However, it is the powerful performance of Brian Strowder as Winston in "The Island" that makes this play exceptional. Two black men, confined to a South African prison, struggle to maintain their ideals in the face of harsh reality. Martin Ruof plays John, the more articulate of the two characters. Mr. Ruof's performance has some strong moments.