Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: 'The Phantom of the Opera' Haunts the Paliku Theatre at Windward Community College in Hawaii

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “The Phantom of the Opera” is available to high schools and colleges nationwide and taking advantage of the opportunity is Windward Community College, part of the University of Hawaii system, with a production at its campus Paliku Theatre.

Prior to this production, there were only three times the residents of Hawaii could see the music locally. In 1993 the Canadian tour of the show grossed over $11 million during a 10-week run at the Blaisdell Concert Hall. That record gross held for fourteen years until 1997 when the national tour of ‘The Lion King’ roared into Honolulu at the same venue. The same ‘Phantom’ tour returned to Hawaii a year later in 1994 for a shorter grossing run. It wasn’t until 2010 when anyone in Hawaii would see another production locally. The students of the private Punahou School put on a six-performance run in fall of that year.

Now talents on stage and behind the scenes are taking on the challenge of tackling one of the most extravagant musicals ever produced and interpreting it for a college theater stage. It appears the title is still as popular as ever evidenced by the sold-out run of the show at the Paliku.

Kyle Mallis (Raoul), Lydia Pusateri (Christine) and Miles Wesley (The Phantom)
(photos: Paliku Theatre)
Though one would expect a downsized version of the original set and costume designs by the late Maria Bjornson, such a production should apply more focus on the performers, their acting and singing. It’s a given that budget restrictions would limit any theatre company in trying to duplicate the original production design. Also despite what theatre critics might say, Lloyd Webber’s music and lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe ably transports the audience to the world of the late 19th century Paris opera house with a through-sung device and melodies to match. The operatic aspirations of the composter are made accessible with sweeping tunes.

For those familiar with the original: the crashing chandelier, the grand staircase for the masquerade ball and the phantom’s underground lair are all splendidly designed and lit by Lloyd S. Riford III for the Paliku stage. The only distraction was the blue elephant for the ‘Hannibal’ opera sequence in the musical’s first scenes. Equally brilliant is the costuming designs of Evette Tanouye Allerdings in what appears to include a mix of rented costumes.

Aside from the visuals, the orchestra and musical director Clarke Bright provide justice to Lloyd Webber’s score. The melodies are still grand and haunting as played by the seventeen-member orchestra.

The role of the Phantom is in actuality a supporting one. But he is omnipresent throughout the evening even when the actor is not on stage. The true showcase role is that of Christine Daae, the ingénue that the Phantom bewitches. The score is a marathon for any performer especially for the actress portraying Christine (hence in almost every professional production with eight shows a week an alternate plays the role at certain performances).

Miles Wesley as the Phantom and Lydian Pusateri as Christine ably handle the plot demands. Both sing assuredly that “Music of the Night” and “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” will not disappoint and their duet of the title song is thrilling. Lloyd Webber has composed beautiful music linking these songs even if a chunk of them are to variations of the show’s big numbers. These moments deserve attention to carry the dramatic weight of the story. It’s likely that Wesely and Pusateri will grow into these characters over the remaining performances to deliver these sung lines with importance as they do the main numbers. 

The role of the Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, completes the love triangle. As written the character does not offer much depth. But Kyle Mallis reveals a professional stage presence in his performance and elevates the character more than it deserves. He is strong in voice and plays the character believably. The cast also includes Leonard J. Villanueva and Douglas S. Scheer as the opera managers who provide more than adequate comedic support. As Carlotta, Jaime Craycroft plays the opera diva with great fun and relish intentionally reducing her soprano to pale in comparison to Christine.

The timeless appeal of this beauty and the beast story especially when adorned with the score of Lloyd Webber has helped to make the musical the most successful entertainment endeavor ever. Director Ronald E. Bright brings a confident hand to realize this production at the Paliku that will delight new and old fans of 'The Phantom of the Opera.'

'The Phantom of the Opera' is presented at the Paliku Theatre at Windward Community College located in Kanoehe, Hawaii. Perfomances run to October 23, 2011; 7:30pm Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays and 4pm Sundays. Tickets cost $30-$45; $49 for VIP ticket seating. Visit to purchase tickets. Click HERE for more information.


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