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Theater review: BYU’s 'Phantom' a lavish popular entertainment spectacle

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4 2015 4:15 a.m. MDT

Tim Cooper as Raul and DeLaney Westfall as Christine in BYU's production of "The Phantom of the Opera." (Mark A. Philbrick, photo@byu.edu) Tim Cooper as Raul and DeLaney Westfall as Christine in BYU's production of "The Phantom of the Opera." (Mark A. Philbrick, photo@byu.edu)

“The Phantom of the Opera,” BYU Department of Theatre, Harris Fine Arts Center de Jong Concert Hall, through Feb. 2, $15-$25, 801-422-4322 or byuarts.com/tickets

PROVO — “The Phantom of the Opera” caused a sensation when it opened on Broadway in 1988, and after celebrating performance 10,000 nearly a year ago, there’s no denying its staying power.

In a major coup, BYU is among the first to snag the academic performance rights and has staged a lavish popular entertainment spectacle in tribute to the original production.

The chandelier is in lumbering flight. There are strobe lights a-flashing and fog machines a-spewing. The requisite echo chamber-enhanced vocals and an over-amplified orchestra are in place. It's all that fans of the grandiose adventure had envisioned.

Preston Yates as the Phantom and DeLaney Westfall as Christine in BYU's production of "The Phantom of the Opera." (Mark A. Philbrick, photo@byu.edu) Preston Yates as the Phantom and DeLaney Westfall as Christine in BYU's production of "The Phantom of the Opera." (Mark A. Philbrick, photo@byu.edu)

And somehow amid the magnified technical display, the well-rehearsed performers startlingly impress. For each of the vocally demanding roles there is an impressive singer. The actors perform as the comic foils amuse. The corps de ballet dances with spirit and precision.

As the bumbling new owners of the Opéra Populaire, Messrs. André and Firmin, Brad Robins and Sam Bostwick are synchronized as they sing the threatening messages and stage direction from the theater-controlling Phantom. Caroline Morris plays the tempestuous Carlotta Giudicelli, the resident diva whose job is in jeopardy, with aplomb. Wooden performances have become the norm for Carlottas, but Morris understands the comedy and plays it to the hilt without needless exaggeration, with a strong, clear coloratura. “Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh” is a delight.

Misha Jenkins is a gifted character actress, and her mysterious, walking stick-thumping ballet mistress Mme. Giry projects authority and wisdom. As her daughter Meg, who suggests a rising star replacement when Carlotta quits the production, Reba Johnson is fine.

Brad Robbins as Monsieur Andre, Brannon Killgo as Piangi, Caroline Morris as Carlotta and Sam Bostick as Monsier Firmin in BYU's production of "The Phantom of the Opera." (Mark A. Philbrick, photo@byu.edu) Brad Robbins as Monsieur Andre, Brannon Killgo as Piangi, Caroline Morris as Carlotta and Sam Bostick as Monsier Firmin in BYU's production of "The Phantom of the Opera." (Mark A. Philbrick, photo@byu.edu)

At the center of the thin love story that doesn’t resonate are the tortured, disfigured Phantom, the young singer Christine Daae seeking her “angel of music” and her childhood friend Vicomte Raoul de Chagny.

The most underwritten of roles, Raol is played by Tim Cooper, who works hard to capture the feelings of being suddenly smitten with Christine. He brings tenderness to the well-sung duet “All I Ask of You.”

As the young and emotional ingénue Christine, DeLaney Westfall sings beautifully. Following playing another Christine, in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” and Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” both at Hale Centre Theater, Westfall has grown as an actress to become a striking presence of stage — beautiful, charming and with distinguished skills. “Think of Me,” in which Christine gains her stage confidence, and her pleading “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” are superb.

As it should be, the evening’s true star is Preston Yates as the masked Phantom. I’ve been able to see the University of Utah transfer student since he began performing in high school as Horton in “Seussical” and more recently as Ramon in the Hale Centre’s U.S. premiere of “Zorro.” His voice is rich, vibrant and colorful, and he has no problem hitting the high notes of "The Phantom of the Opera" score.

Yates makes the Phantom, a monster in the basement of the opera house, full of obsessive longing but also entirely sympathetic. He brings menace to the role with subtlety and balance, mesmerizing both Christine and the audience. “The Music of the Night” is particularly appealing with Yates’ youthful vigor, and “The Point of No Return,” notably free from text snips, sounds marvelous.

To cap the opening-night evening of success, at curtain call Yates invited Megan Knell to the stage, knelt on one knee and made a very public marriage proposal, which she accepted.

Also recognized is the sturdy ambition of the ensemble lead dancer Michael Mikanin, showcasing the skills of choreographers Lisa Stoddard and Shani Robinson. Gayle Lockwood is to thank for the splendid musical direction, and at the baton of the massive 40-piece pit orchestra is Christian Smith, seeming not to notice the occasional out-of-tune instruments.

With one exception, the costumes by a quartet of designers, is grand and wonderfully detailed. The second-act opener “Masquerade” has the cast in metallic golds and silvers, rather than the signature devil red, and Christine is oddly princess-like in tiara and pastel pinks and blues. The opulence of the costuming tends to overplay the conventional set with projections that establish locations outside the opera house and unnecessarily punctuate characterizations. Watching the Phantom play chess on one of the screens is particularly heavy-handed.

Undoubtedly director Tim Threlfall’s shirt buttons are bursting off with pride. With "The Phantom of the Opera" he takes on the ambitious task and earns the accolades he’ll be receiving for his superb work with the students.

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