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By Bridgette M. Redman
All the fantastical, grand elements that made “The Phantom of the Opera” into the most commercially successful entertainment hit of modern times still thrill audiences and inspire the knowledge that live theater has a magic that can’t be found elsewhere.
The ringing voices, the sweeping sets, the intricate costumes, and iconic music all combine to create an experience that transcends three hours spent curled up on a couch watching television. A performance of “Phantom” is about creating memories and giving people the opportunity to say they witnessed this touching, melodramatic love story.
The Andrew Lloyd Weber musical continues to glitter. The heart-breaking love triangle of Trista Moldovan as Christine, Tim Martin Gleason as the mysterious Opera Ghost – or Phantom – and Sean MacLaughlin as the dashing young opera patron, move amongst spectacular and constantly changing scenery that is exceeded in wonder only by their voices.
All of which is not to say that after almost two decades on tour, “Phantom” hasn’t started to lose some of its luster. As grand and awe-inspiring as the performance is, there are spots where the paint is beginning to flake and the seams worn too thin to hold things together in their previously stunning manner.
Perhaps the largest drawback in this version of “Phantom” at Wharton Center in East Lansing through mid-June is the lack of balance in many of the musical numbers. The solos and duets were exceptional and moving, but too many of the ensemble pieces were difficult to understand — even to ears that knew the music well.
While the performance of Hannibal made one glance about for surtitles, it was sufficiently operatic in style to make it worth the effort of straining to comprehend. Later in the managers’ office, the acting was amusing, but when singing, the manager voices were weak and lacking in variety. By the time it gets to the latter half of the song, there were only a few voices that could be heard. MacLaughlin and Nancy Hess as Madame Giry appeared to be singing at times but their voices were buried. Some of the wonderfully snarky lines sung by the managers were also lost in the sound that overwhelmed the words.
Hess was stern in her role, carrying with her an authority that left no doubt that she ruled with an iron fist. Yet, the others around her failed to show even the slightest hesitation in rejecting her advice, making it difficult for her to establish the Phantom’s authority.
Gleason’s Phantom was almost too human. He showed beautiful vulnerability, but the vulnerability came too soon, making him always more a man to be pitied than a monster to be feared. There was little arc to his character, making Moldovan one of the few who make any sort of journey during the three-hour show.
The show is more than spectacle. The grandeur of the production expertly woos those who take in theater only rarely, inviting them in to experience the music of the night sung by angels around the world. For those already wed to a life of live theater, “Phantom” serves as a reminder of those heady early days when the magic was still titillating and the door being opened to the deep, abiding love that lasts a lifetime.
‘The Phantom of the Opera’
Wharton Center, 1 Wharton Center Dr., East Lansing. Tuesday-Sunday through June 6. $30-$70. 1-800-WHARTON. http://www.whartoncenter.com