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Can't mask the quality of this 'Phantom'

BroadHollow Theatre Company's

BroadHollow Theatre Company's " Phantom" performance will be held on October 9-24, 2010 at the BayWay Arts Center in East Islip. Credit: Handout

Owing to the disappointment expressed by a woman leaving BroadHollow's BayWay Arts Center opening night, this reminder seems necessary - again: "Phantom," the musical by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston, is not "Phantom of the Opera," the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, still repeating itself on Broadway.

To me, that's a positive. No, you won't hear "Music of the Night" and the other high-kitsch show tunes that have made Sir Andrew's the longest-running Broadway musical ever. But you will hear such stirring and, yes, emotionally manipulative songs as "You Are Music" and "You Are My Own," which imbue "Phantom" with an operatic heft suitable for a musical set in a 19th century Parisian diva dome.

Like the other "Phantom," this one is based on the Gaston Leroux novel about a disfigured tenor who inhabits the catacombs of the opera house under the protection of the company manager, who has an undisclosed relationship with the masked figure. The manager is replaced by a wealthy patron more interested in advancing the career of his talentless wife, Carlotta, than in artistic excellence.

Meanwhile, the Phantom has taken on a student, a winsome street singer named Christine, who has been hired as a costume girl. Christine gets her chance for a leading role after an impromptu bistro audition. But Carlotta sabotages the girl's debut, catapulting the Phantom toward revenge.

Matt Senese, collaborating with choreographer Jessy Waller, directs the cast of two dozen in a character-driven expression of tenderness and ambition, love and loss, with a not-so-happily-ever-after "Beauty and the Beast" tale thrown in. Played on Bob Butterly's transformer set that turns granite (painted Styrofoam, actually) inside out, "Phantom" keeps us focused. (Never mind the cheesy chandelier.)

We feel the poor guy's torment in Chris Dufrenoy's powerful, pleading voice. The Phantom's real-life wife, Kim Dufrenoy, wows us as Christine, with her rich and soaring soprano. But we can't suspend our senses sufficiently to ignore the fact that she no longer passes for ingénue. Sheila Sheffield as Carlotta adds a farcical touch to the villainess - that she can't sing is an asset - while Michael Newman as the fired opera manager hits the right dramatic notes in his duet with the title character.

The haunting wheeze of a pipe organ likely would have been lost if BroadHollow had hired an orchestra instead of a recorded track. But I miss the spontaneity of live musicians.

Still, this "Phantom" sings - and so does his true love.

WHAT "Phantom," the Arthur Kopit-Maury Yeston musical

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 24, at BroadHollow's BayWay Arts Center, 265 E. Main St., East Islip; also Nov. 13-28, BroadHollow Theatre, 700 Hempstead Tpke., Elmont

INFO $18, $16 seniors and students, $20 at the door;, 631-581-2700


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