`Phantom' appearing here in all its splendor

Theater Review

August 14, 2004|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

It's taken more than a dozen years, but "the music of the night" is finally being heard in Baltimore.

Or, to put it another way, The Phantom of the Opera is haunting the Hippodrome Theatre. And, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, set in the Paris Opera House in the late 19th century, looks just grand in Baltimore's renovated vaudeville palace.

The life-sized gilded angels that decorate the show's ornate proscenium arch, the gigantic levitating chandelier, the gondola that floats on a subterranean lake dotted with flickering candles - all of these fit beautifully into the Hippodrome.

But though designer Maria Bjornson's lavish sets and bejeweled costumes contribute enormously to the romantic atmosphere of the piece, it's the performances - especially those of the two leads - that lend it emotion and sensuality.

Adapted by Lloyd Webber, co-librettist Richard Stilgoe and lyricist Charles Hart from Gaston Leroux's classic horror novel, the lushly melodious musical is an account of a romantic triangle. The Phantom, a disfigured composer who lives in the depths of the Opera House, has fallen in love with Christine Daae, a young soprano he is secretly tutoring. She, in turn, is in love with the opera's patron, a handsome vicomte named Raoul.

As Christine, Rebecca Pitcher, who holds a graduate degree from the Peabody, has a glorious voice, splendidly showcased in the poignant "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," a lament for her dead father.

But it is Pitcher's acting that turns Christine into a complicated as well as empathetic figure. In the musical, Christine's late father promised she would be visited by an Angel of Music. Her belief that the Phantom is this angel explains the attraction she feels for a man she also fears, and Pitcher movingly conveys these conflicting emotions.

Gary Mauer also imbues the masked title character with complexity, portraying him as a captivating mixture of threatening and vulnerable. The latter quality manifests itself not only as a break in his spirit, but also in his commanding singing, which takes on a sudden tremulousness when his mask is removed or his hold over Christine is shaken.

As his romantic rival, Raoul, Tim Martin Gleason comes across a bit callow. But several of the supporting performances shine. Patti Davidson-Gorbea brings Hitchcockean gravity to the role of the opera company's ballet mistress, and as her ballerina daughter, Kate Wray has the look and winsome manner of Degas' Little Dancer sculpture.

The Phantom of the Opera exudes opulence, but there's majesty in its smaller moments as well - details that have not diminished since director Harold Prince put his stamp on the original production. Just watch the way Pitcher's Christine and Mauer's Phantom use their hands in "The Point of No Return." Reaching out in gentle caresses, their gestures have the graceful inevitability of moths drawn to a flame.

After so many years on tour, Phantom might have ridden into town as a sheer - though hardly mere - spectacle. But while that aspect of the production is as swell as ever, it's even more refreshing to discover that the show's heart remains intact.

The Phantom of the Opera

Where: Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw St.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 6:30 p.m. Sundays; matinees at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through Oct. 3

Tickets: $20-$77.50

Call: 410-547-SEAT

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