‘Phantom’ at Riverside Center Dinner Theater by Julia L. Exline


Riverside Center Dinner Theater presents Phantom, with music and lyrics by Tony Award winner Maury Yeston (Nine and Titanic) and a book by Arthur Kopit. It’s based on Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera. Not as well known as the Andrew Lloyd Webber counterpart, Phantom delves deeper into the psyche of its title character, giving it the depth it needs to stand on its own as a musical masterpiece. Directed by Patti D’Beck, magnificent vocals are paired with stunning visual effects, and the results are stunning!

Robert Beard and Patrick A’Hearn (The Phantom). Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi/The Free Lance-Star.

Scenic Designer Aaron P. Mastin shows us multiple views of the Paris Opera House, including both onstage and backstage, as well as an outside view of the building on the Avenue de l’Opera. The sets are beautifully detailed, with painted backgrounds that have a classical quality, making the stage look like a painting that has come to life! A glittery chandelier is used as a dazzling fancy focal point before the stage transitions into dark, sinister catacombs…the home of the Phantom, and the source of fearful ghost stories for the people who roam above. Lighting by Phil Carlucci is paired with fog effects, which creates an ominous glow that perfectly sets the tone. Gaye Law represents the late 1800’s with dresses that use enough material to fashion a tent out of ruffles-upon-ruffles, with tight curls and elaborate hats to match. The Phantom hides his face behind a simple mask and is wrapped in a large cloak, setting him starkly aside from the other characters.

Born and raised in the catacombs beneath the Opera House, Erik (Patrick A’Hearn, who is also the Artistic Director for Riverside Center) leads a reclusive life as the Phantom of the Opera, and walks a shaky line between sanity and lunacy, though he is able to be comforted by the beautiful music from the Opera House. This changes when his protector Gerard Carriere (Robert Beard) is dismissed as the manager of the Opera House and replaced with Cholet and his wife Carlotta (Jason J. Michael and Andrea Kahane) neither of whom believe in the existence of the Phantom. Carlotta overtakes the Opera House’s productions, and her screeching voice is enough to torment the Phantom into near madness.

When Philippe (Nathaniel Austin Mason), The Count De Chandon and main patron of the Opera House, meets Christine Daee, (Quinn Vogt-Welch), he is so taken with her voice and gentle nature that he sends her to the Opera House for lessons. However, a jealous Carlotta puts her to work in the costume department instead, leaving her to be discovered by the Phantom, who is so moved by her voice that he offers her private lessons – provided that she never ask him to reveal his face. All seems well until a love triangle and dirty sabotage threaten the Phantom’s newfound happiness, and The Opera House finds itself in imminent danger from a vengeful, tormented soul.

A’Hearn is astounding as The Phantom, gaining applause from his very first appearance (as he rises from below the stage amidst a swirling cloud of fog) to a highly enthusiastic standing ovation during curtain call. He lends a delicacy to The Phantom, who yearns for a beautiful voice to listen to in the wonderful number, “Where in the World?” His terrible loneliness is palpable, and like Christine, he finds his only solace in the Opera House, shown in the lovely duet called “Home.”

Christine Daee, (Quinn Vogt-Welch). Photo courtesy of Riverside Center Dinner Theater.

A’Hearn and Vogt-Welch’s vocals are immensely powerful, and a huge joy to listen to. While the songs are heavily emotional, the ensemble livens up the tone with “Dressing for the Night” and “Melodie de Paris.” My favorite number is “The Story of Erik,” sung by Robert Beard as Carriere and featuring ballet from Christin Barksdale Pristas (Belladova, Erik’s mother). Pristas’ graceful movements are breathtaking, and are a definite highlight of the show, giving the audience an in-depth look into Erik’s troubled, yet sweetly innocent nature.

A kind soul that is shrouded in darkness, A’Hearn’s Phantom is vivid and heartbreaking, shown best in the song, “My Mother Bore Me.” Intense and dramatic with outstanding vocals and direction, Phantom is a production that will stay with you long after you leave the theater. It’s not to be missed!

Running Time: approximately two hours and thirty minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Phantom plays through October 14, 2012 at Riverside Center Dinner Theater – 95 Riverside Parkway, in Fredericksburg, VA. For reservations, call (540) 370-4300. Here are show times and prices.

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