Yeston & Kopit’s Phantom
N.C. Theatre @ Memorial Auditorium, Progress Energy Center
Through Oct. 26

For the record, Phantom, N.C. Theatre’s musical adaptation of Gaston Leroux novel currently playing at Memorial Auditorium, is not the Andrew Lloyd Webber version whose tunes are constantly covered by aspiring singers and elevator-music companies. It’s a different version, developed before Webber’s, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and a book by Arthur Kopit, author of Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad. It plays frequently around the world and was made into a 1990 NBC miniseries you can find on YouTube. While this version features forgettable music compared to Webber’s bombastic ballads, it boasts a far stronger, more dramatic story that strikes a deep emotional chord.

The story is well known by nowthe deformed genius Erik (Michael Minarik of Les Miserables on Broadway) lives under the Paris Opera House, where he finds himself in the position of muse to young ingénue Christine (Rebecca Pritcher). Displeased when untalented diva Carlotta (Ellen Harvey) takes over the house and Christine falls for dashing Philippe (Jarrod Emick), Erik kidnaps Christine into his tunnel world, with tragic results.

This version of the story doesn’t let us see the Phantom’s face, but instead places the emphasis on Erik’s outsider status and his relationship with his longtime protector Carriere (Neal Benari). Much of the second act focuses on this relationship, along with the alienation Erik feels from Christine and human society. This is a terribly articulate Phantomhe quotes William Blake and has a few witty one-liners. Living under an opera house would cause you to pick up some culture, I suppose.

Phantom features excellent staging, costumes and moving sets that keep the production fast-paced, though you’re not likely to leave the theater humming any of the songs, despite good work from Pritcher, Harvey and the rest of the cast. But this is a more dramatic, complex and coherent version of the story, with a climactic duet between Benari and Minarik a touching highlight. It’s not as good a musical as Webber’s version, but it is a better play. If only there was a way to combine Kopit’s book with Webber’s songs, you’d have a masterpiece.