'The Phantom of the Opera'


It's no accident that "The Phantom of the Opera" has grossed more money than any other single entertainment of the 20th century, including such cash cows as "Titanic," "Star Wars" and Cher's farewell concert tour.

The reasons for the show's remarkable success were never more apparent than in this smashing production, directed by Harold Prince and staged and choreographed by Gillian Lynne. This is not your typical roadshow revival, with a second-rate cast going through their paces in a third-rate setting. Prince and Lynne have polished the show down to the last lavish detail, and the spooky stagecraft offers a thrill a minute.

Capping everything, the production is a perfect match for the bygone splendor of the Pantages Theatre.

As for the cast, if you're a Michael Crawford devotee, don't fret. John Cudia is a grand Phantom, full of romantic longing, erotic obsession and just the right touch of madness born of deep despair. His handsome tenor can be both tender or menacing, and in the final unmasking scene he brings a stirring emotional reality to the evening's gothic thrills.

Trista Moldovan, as spellbound Christine, has a lovely, crystalline soprano that underlines the character's innocent yet troubled heart. It's not hard to understand what the Phantom sees in his beauteous protege. Kyle Barisich is agreeable as Christine's impetuous suitor Raoul.

The many opera scenes of comic relief are an additional pleasure, each one sumptuously staged and exquisitely costumed. Kim Stengel's sparkling Carlotta, Christine's soprano rival, also is a highlight. Others lending strong support are Anne Kanengeiser as morose Madame Giry, who brings to mind Dracula's housekeeper, and Bruce Winant and D.C. Anderson as the amusing Monsieur Firmin and Monsieur Andre, respectively. (partialdiff)