Anne Arundel Community College’s Spring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera opens at an auction within the dilapidated Paris Opera House, in the year 1911. Among the items up for bid is Lot 666, a chandelier which was famously destroyed by the theater’s Opera Ghost as part of his reign of terror years before. As the chandelier rises, we’re swept even further back in time. The music swells. The lights change. The scene switches and the opera house is alive with divas and dancers, and the Phantom lurks in the shadows.
The Phantom of the Opera is an ambitious undertaking for any theater company. The score is beautiful but challenging. And there’s a certain expectation placed on the production values – especially since the 2004 movie introduced the musical to a wider audience – that smaller theaters may struggle to meet. Having said this, one may wonder why a community college would try put it on at all. But the answer is easy. For all the technical and artistic difficulties inherent to Phantom, it’s a familiar show, a well-loved one, and it’s fun to perform.
And this production does rise to the challenge on many levels. Gabe Taylor as the Phantom is amazing. His acting is spot-on and his voice carries the perfect intensity for the role, striking a balance between subdued, yet menacing. His rendition of ‘The Music of the Night’ is mesmerizing.
Jeffrey Walter’s Raoul is charming, clever, and courageous. He has a good voice and was an effective foil to Taylor’s Phantom. Emily L. Sergo is perfectly cast as the diva Carlotta, always appropriately over the top as she struts about the stage, acting like she owns the place. Kristina Tardif Banks and Reed Sigmon shine in the too often underappreciated roles of Madame Giry and both actors bringing a nearly comical sense of severity and impatience to their respective roles. Many of the performances are even more impressive when you consider that they’re all still students.
Unfortunately at my performance, Laura Sparks, who played Christine Daae, experienced some vocal problems. She struggled with some of her high notes, and her voice cracked at the end of “The Phantom of the Opera.” During her few lower notes, she switched into a chest voice which sounded stylistically out of place with the rest of her singing. Her duet with Jeffrey Walter “All I Ask of You,” however, was sung beautifully.
The orchestra, under the direction of Blair Skinner, was absolutely wonderful. There were times, however, where the excessive volume of the brass occasionally overwhelmed the singers.
Michael Klima did a great job as lighting designer, and Sean J. Urbantke created amazing sets. Some of the set pieces are very large and the transitions are slow, but the final effects are worth it. Kristi Schaffner’s choreography is lovely and well-executed, and the costumes by A.T. Jones are beautiful, though some of the many, many dresses could use a steam between shows.
On several occasions, Director Douglas Brandt Byerly had his cast singing and acting with their backs to the audience or into the wings. By facing away from the audience, emotions got lost and lines sounded muffled. For example, Jeffrey Walter (Raoul) is one of the first actors on stage, and I can’t say that I clearly saw his face until Scene 3, roughly 20 minutes into the production. Similarly, the volume of his singing increased dramatically when he faced out, even with the microphones. This staging did a disservice to student performers who were attempting to project into a large hall, over a powerful orchestra.
The students of AACC have put a lot of hard work into their production of The Phantom of the Opera and it shows. They should feel proud of what they’ve accomplished with such challenging material.
Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, including a 20-minute intermission.
The Phantom of the Opera is playing through April 26, 2015 at Anne Arundel Community College’s Robert E. Kauffman Theater at the Pascal Center – 101 College Parkway at The Arnold Campus, in Arnold, MD. For tickets or more information, contact the Box Office at (410) 777-2457, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.