by Sarah A. Peterson
As an autumn chill haunts the October air, Broadway in Fresno’s Phantom of the Opera descends on the William Saroyan Theatre in all of its macabre grandeur.
With opulent revolving sets and sumptuous costumes in jewel tones, this lush production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running Broadway musical is a feast for the senses.
The curtains open on the Paris Opera House, circa 1911, as it changes hands; the new owners (David Benoit and Price Waldman) quickly discover they’ve taken on a haunted establishment, replete with its very own Phantom.
Supporting players, such as opera diva Carlotta (Jacquelynne Fontaine), provide peppery bits of comedy as the central love triangle unfolds.
Chris Mann positively smolders as the love-starved Phantom; his deep timbre aches with unrequited longing for rising opera star Christine (Katie Travis), whose soaring vocals contrast beautifully with the rich baritone of her lover Raoul (Storm Lineberger) in the duet “All I Ask of You.”
A rotating tower (courtesy of set designer Paul Brown) effectively aids in the changing of scenes, especially in the use of special effects. As the Phantom leads Christine down to his lair, a set of stairs materializes out of the smooth face of the tower, aiding in their escape from the world above.
Other nifty effects, like a self-playing piano, a falling chandelier, and a variety of stage pyrotechnics, heighten the mystery and suspense at just the right moments, lending an air of the supernatural to the production.
The lavish sets capture the mood of melodramatic spectacle as the plot unfolds, from the looming funerary statues of the cemetery to the mirrored walls of the ballroom. The Phantom’s underground lair, in particular, evokes the eponymous anti-hero’s romantic melancholy, dusky purple light gleaming on the polished surface of the organ where the Phantom composes in bursts of frenzied genius.
But above all, the music is what stays with you long after the curtains have fallen: the carefree frivolity of “Masquerade,” the unbridled optimism of “Angel of Music,” the crackling eroticism of “Music of the Night.”
Phantom of the Opera will be in Fresno through October 16. Tickets can be purchased on their website.
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