“Phantom” is based on the book with the same title by Arthur Kopit. His book is based on the novel “The Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux. The leading role is Eric, a tortured soul who lives in the basement of an opera house. He is the disfigured love child of a stage manager and beautiful performer who has died before the time of the opening scene.
Eric, played by Raymond Johnson, wears a mask at all times after seeing himself in a puddle of water as a youngster. It may be the number of vocal works performed by Johnson that won the hearts of the audience or his strong baritone voice. Either way, he moved through the scenes with unwavering grace and confidence. Only Eric’s father, Gerard Carriere played by Steve Catron, knows his identity and has protected him for years from the public and opera house performers.
Catron’s performance Sunday started out almost as a carryover from his character in his last performance, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” He almost type-casted himself but quickly recovered. In his best scene Catron moved the audience through an emotional father and son bonding moment when Eric is mortally wounded. The urgency to bond and explain everything was masterfully portrayed to the degree that sniffles could be heard throughout the crowd.
Eric’s entire world is the basement of the opera house. He plays there as a youngster in a park of artificial prop type trees. He sleeps on a bed from a different production and teaches a costume girl how to sing in a set that must be from an opera of horror genre. After hearing grand opera all his life Eric knows good performance and talent. Both are developed in his protege, the lovely costume girl Christine, played by Morgan Breckenridge, with whom he falls in love.
Breckenridge makes both her relationship with the Eric and The Count Philippe De Chandon seem real because Christine loves each man for different reasons. The energy is equally played between her character and the phantom and she and the Count played by Brian Shewell. Nearly every available girl on the set claims to be in love with the Count and Shewell artfully strings them along while pursuing his new found talent and love Christine.
MWSU President Robert Vartabedian is credited with the idea for a production involving the music, art and theater departments, Director Tee Quillin’s program notes. The idea is more than bold. Only perseverance and discipline of each performer could bring about the cooperation of each department on this large scale production. In the words of Eric, “People are born for many things.”
This performance was nearly constantly accompanied by a music score by Maury Teston. The execution was so well performed by the live orchestra that the audience could almost forget it occupied the pit. Conductor Rico McNeela kept each moment of “Phantom” a seamless emotional experience with talented Western students. The company of artist played four times to a sold-out house.
If that sounds familiar it’s because “Phantom” comes on the heels of Dallas Henry’s direction of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” last fall which also enjoyed sold-out performances. Henry was the box office/house manager of this production and shared a funny but nervous curtain speech with Director, Tee Quillin. Both of these gentlemen are fairly new to Missouri Western but have hit the ground running with these two pieces.
The company has earned their audience’s highest compliment. At the end most were hoping the house lights wouldn’t come up so quickly that fellow audience members could see their tears.