Someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe “Phantom” is the first show Hale Center Theater Orem has done in at least five years, and maybe longer, in which a death occurs onstage.
They’ve done plenty of shows in which characters have already died and are now haunting other characters, and there have been some humorous references to death (“Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Lucky Stiff”). But a realistic death, not played for laughs, happening right before our eyes? This is rare for Hale.
I mention it because “Phantom” is altogether an unusual show for this light-and-fluffy theater. (It must be a trend: The next show is “The Diary of Anne Frank.”) It is a musical, but less a comedy than a dark, Gothic chamber piece, where characters have dubious motives and serious flaws. It is based on the same French novel as the more-famous musical “The Phantom of the Opera”; this version is less fantastical, more literate, not as spectacle-oriented and has better music.
The story, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and book by Arthur Kopit, is more or less the same as in the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Charles Hart/Richard Stilgoe version. Under the Paris Operahouse in the 1800s lives a disfigured man known as the “Phantom.” He trains ingenue Christine Daae to become a singer and perpetrates pranks and “accidents” among the rest of the cast, leading to tragedy and mayhem.
Brad Montgomery’s performance as the Phantom is fine, if not his best work. His singing voice is fantastic; it’s the acting, in an admittedly difficult role, that is uneven. Some moments, such as when he shouts, “I am darkness itself!,” are so highly melodramatic they border on campiness. Other scenes, like his underground picnic with Christine and his second-act moments with his friend Carriere (Mark Shipley), are vulnerable and sweet. Overall, though, we don’t get into his psyche as much as we’d like to.
As Christine, Christy Rae Turnbow is perfectly splendid. A show in this small venue, where the audience is right in the actors’ faces, benefits from a performance as personable as hers. She conveys beauty, grace and approachability, and has a gorgeous voice to boot.
That being said, her character comes out underdeveloped as well. Where is her joy at falling in love with the Count (Gene Moi Moi Young)? Where is her dilemma in choosing between him and the Phantom? There are pivotal moments where emotions are written into the dialogue and lyrics, but in the every-day scenes, both Christine and the Phantom seem flat — likable and sympathetic, but without depth.
I suspect not all the cylinders were firing opening night. The storytelling was a bit unclear at times; words, music and movement had not yet gelled the way they were meant to. (The director is Syd Riggs, with music direction by Kathryn Laycock Little and choreography by Amanda Crabb.)
Nonetheless, the show is startlingly poignant and, yes, entertaining. It is bolstered by amusing performances by Amanda Crabb and Mike Gray as the pretentious new owners of the theater, and an able chorus filling numerous smaller roles. Its blend of comedy and tragedy is intoxicating.
Should you go? It is not as magnificent as it ought to be, but its merits are considerable, particularly if you’ve never seen it before.
I was wrong: "The King and I" ends with the death of the king, onstage. Also, I bet a lot of audience members have died during shows, too.