YORBA LINDA — When Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" ends its long runs in humongous venues, it might not find its way into smaller theaters. Without its gigantic stage machinery, there isn't much drama. The version of the tale that will continue to be done is Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston's "Phantom." The Kopit-Yeston work actually returns to the original novel by Gaston Leroux. After a Yorba Linda Civic Light Opera performance of the show recently at the Forum Theatre, a young patron was heard saying, "Gee, none of that stuff was in the other one."
What she was referring to was the flashback segment that tells the tragic history of Eric, the Phantom of the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera.
When his mother, Belladova, the toast of Paris and the opera company, discovered she was pregnant, she also discovered that the father, Gerard Carriere, was already married.
Her failed attempt at a drug-induced abortion disfigured the baby's face. She disappeared into the catacombs with the child she quickly came to love until Eric was 8. She died, and the boy was raised below the opera by his father, who eventually became general manager of the Paris Opera.
It is the father-son relationship that gives the novel its pathos, as it does this musical. The most touching moment is when Carriere first gives the boy a mask to hide his horrid visage. Young John Haworth makes the moment magical here and hints at the powerful ending when Eric's father is forced to make a heartbreaking decision.
Moments like this shine through director / musical director Joshua Carr's rather stodgy staging, which sometimes looks cartoonish (as does Connie Papple's cliche-ridden costume design) but usually is so heavy-footed and slow that much of the tension and power is dissipated. Carr's co-conductor, Pete Morris, doesn't help with his often plodding tempos.
To the show's advantage are some of the performances. John Huntington is an angst-wracked Eric, still naive in his isolation and his obsession with controlling "his" opera, and Huntington's powerful baritone brings forceful depth to Yeston's songs.
Carolyn Casey is an effective and winning Christine, the rising young star who is the object of Eric's adoration. While Casey's Christine looks as though she could have been singing in the Paris streets for some years without notice, Casey handles her arias with style and intensity.
Ed Wright, impressive in bearing and rich in compassion as Carriere, often echoes Carr's heaviness with slow readings, proclaiming his lines instead of saying them, but he relaxes at moments to touching effect.
His final scene with Eric is one of the highlights of the evening, particularly in its use of irony when, with a singer's inside joke, he admits to his son: "It's not a good face for a tenor." [pause] "Not even for a baritone."
Michael Roberts seems a bit too self-effacing but is otherwise on the mark as the Count De Chandon, who first connects Christine to the opera. Both Joshua Patrick as Alain Cholet, the idiot who fires Carriere and takes his job, and Susan Griffin as his equally idiotic wife who insists on starring at the opera, are excellent, not allowing themselves to go overboard in their comic villainy and making their characters realistically disagreeable.
* "Phantom," Yorba Linda Civic Light Opera, Yorba Linda Forum Theatre, 4175 Fairmont Blvd. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Ends April 15. $18. (714) 779-1932. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.
Carolyn Casey: Christine Daee
John Huntington: Eric (The Phantom)
Ed Wright: Gerard Carriere
Joshua Patrick: Alain Cholet
Susan Griffin: Carlotta
Michael Roberts: Count De Chandon
John Haworth: Young Eric
A Yorba Linda Civic Light Opera revival of the Arthur Kopit-Maury Yeston adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel. Produced by Virginia DeLand. Direction/musical direction: Joshua Carr. Co-conductor: Pete Morris. Choreography: Crystal Burden. Lighting design: Edward Huber. Costume design: Connie Papple. Stage manager: Karen Roppelt.