A Night at the Opera

Flimsy script, tepid music, fabulous spectacle: The Phantom has arrived

Grant Norman, as the Phantom, doesn't. Though a competent, occasionally hypnotic singer, he doesn't embody the physical presence crucial to making the Phantom undeniable, sympathetic, even alluring. The Phantom, besides being an ethereal composer and a deranged killer in the name of love, should exude panache (one look at his sleek mask tells you that) and sensuality (look at his digs). He's a sensitive, off-centered soul, both awe-inspiring demigod and hubristic human, whom we feel for because he and the world have allowed appearances to muck things up. But Norman hounds the stage instead of haunts it; he's nowhere near the commanding-yet-tortured Phantom of that riveting originator with mesmerizing hands, Michael Crawford.

As Christine, Adrienne McEwan is especially winsome when singing, her burgeoning voice traveling up and down the scale delicately and fetchingly. John Schroeder disappoints, his Raoul more a reprimanding hero than a dashing one. Despite the occasional fuzzy enunciation, the supporting cast performs ably, particularly Geena L. Jeffries as the temperamental diva and Paul Jacobsen as the blowzy tenor. However, the dancing interludes come off as obligatory.

We experience emotional resonance, not to mention metaphoric grandeur, watching the Phantom perched on a huge gray mossy tomb, singing his desire to Christine, who's come to the imposing mausoleum to wish that her long-departed father were somehow here again. Despite the score's tendency to be a lush puffball and despite the titular lead's inspiring neither pity nor fear, a prince of a director has ensured that the show hearkens to the heyday of musical theater, when tugged heartstrings and escapist extravaganzas were in great demand, and great supply.

Phantom of the Opera runs through July 16 at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 629-3700.

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