Here, the Phantom (Robert Cuccioli, repeating the role he first played in 1991) is known to newly-fired Paris Opera administrator Gerard Carriere (James Van Treuren) as Erik. Carriere has been watching over catacombs-dwelling Erik for some time while keeping mum about the fellow's existence. The self-appointed guardian has allowed local rumors of a sinister phantom to continue, even though behind the white mask Erik is a weepy lad whose only desire is to hear a truly glorious voice filling the vast auditorium above his lair.
He finally discovers it when he notices wardrobe girl Christine (Kate Rockwell), whose gorgeous soprano pipes substitute for an actual personality. Taking Christine under his wing -- well, under his opera cape -- Erik coaches her until she's ready to audition for onstage work. She succeeds when owners Alain Cholet (Gary Marachek) and Carlotta (Sandy Rosenberg), who's also the demon-throated house leading lady, sign her up. But the scheming Carlotta has a trick up her sleeve that provokes Erik to rattle that famous chandelier. (When the pint-sized fixture barrels to the ground, it has the effect of someone inadvertently stepping on a few 100-watt bulbs.) Angry Erik also puts a crimp in the developing love affair between Christine and Champagne tycoon Philippe de Chandon (Michael Padgett).
What Kopit and Yeston are really interested in, however, is not whether Christine winds up with Erik or Philippe, but how Erik got to be such a sad sack. So not only do they explain Erik's need for Christine's bell tones, they lay out why Gerard has been a loyal guardian through the years. Unfortunately, getting there is a matter of protracted scenes and much uninspired dialogue. But there is one hilarious line: when Erik first gets a load of Carlotta caterwauling, he says, "Her voice is worse than my face."
Yeston's score boasts a lovely item called "Home," sung by both Christine and Erik. The lyrics aren't much, but the melody is flowing and uplifting. The rest of the music sometimes rises to serviceable but not often, and it's not being extraordinarily well sung by most of the cast. While Rockwell's vocal quality lives up to the Phantom's assessment, the emotive quality which the Grease: You're the One That I Want! semifinalist exhibits leaves something to be desired. Cuccioli throws himself into his numbers, as always, but he does little to minimize Erik's lachrymose behavior. Also, he's developed a vibrato with the insistence of a runaway train.
The remainder of the cast members don't hike the property above its unassuming level, nor are they directed with imagination by Tom Polum or choreographed with any special oomph by Jonathan Stahl. The only true creativity has been provided by costumer Gail Baldoni and set designers George Puello and Steven Loftus, whose piece de resistance is a turntable which repeatedly rises to reveal a carousel-like subterranean retreat.
As Phantom has worked its way around the country, it's gathered the reputation of being better than the Lloyd Webber package. It isn't. The more visible predecessor is definitely overrated, but it does have the "Music of the Night" sequence and the eye-popping second-act opener, "Masquerade." And although Kopit and Yeston send Erik and Christine floating around an underground lagoon in a gondola, the scene comes off not as inspiration but imitation. It's emblematic of how adrift they've allowed themselves to be.
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