Phantom

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“The Phantom of the Opera” — that hugely successful Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacle — is a fine show, and worth seeing if you get the chance. But the better story, characters, dialogue, music and lyrics are to be found in the “other” musical based on the Gaston Leroux novel, called simply “Phantom.”

This one, by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston and playing at Pioneer Theatre Company through April 6, is the one that should have become a worldwide phenomenon.

The story is somewhat different from the other show, but with most of the same basic elements: A disfigured “phantom” who lives below the Paris Opera House, a young new singer named Christine who takes private lessons from him, accidents and pranks perpetrated by the Phantom, and eventually some deaths.

Here, the Phantom (Ron Bohmer) is more than a blindly evil villain. He has a name — Erik — and even a friend, in the person of opera manager Gerard Carriere (Robert Peterson). He also has a sense of humor: When he hears Carlotta’s terrible singing, he observes, “I think her voice is worse than my face.”

The first act is generally light — thematically, anyway, if not in terms of actual illumination — with humorous turns by Victoria Mallory as the pretentious diva Carlotta and fantastic, sunny solos by Sandra Joseph as Christine.

It is in Act II that things turn more treacherous; indeed, that is when the Phantom first shows signs of madness. It is also, however, the place where the most beautiful music is sung. Robert Peterson telling the story of the Phantom, Christine urging Erik to take off his mask, Erik relating the woe and misery of unrequited love — these are magnificent, poetic songs, delivered with aching emotion by the talented cast. It is breathtaking, at times, how gorgeous it all is.

The director is Gary Gisselman, with the excellent live orchestra conducted by James Prigmore and choreography by Jayne Luke.

The Gothic, operatic finale is marred somewhat by some stiff fight choreography, but is otherwise completely effective. It’s a show that will be new to most viewers, and it’s a welcome mixture of song, spectacle and story.

Should you go? Yes, especially if you’ve seen “Phantom of the Opera” and want to see how it’s REALLY done.

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