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Kennedy Center's 'Phantom' road weary


ANDREW Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" has arrived at the Kennedy Center Opera House looking a little road weary. This, however, is a situation that may right itself.

The show is going to be there for three months, so there is reason to assume that this road version will look as good as the Broadway edition before too many weeks have passed.

Webber's "Phantom" is a very visual show. Knowing that the story was a familiar one (even more familiar since the Webber version opened, and thanks to any number of Webber-inspired copies), Webber chose to overwhelm the story with visual and aural effect.

The aural is good at the Kennedy. It is the visual that doesn't quite match the New York spectacle. Curtains, bigger than you would ever believe, fall but continue to wave, and the crosswalk that shifts downward and side to side,allowing the principals to enter the phantom's lair, does so in relative darkness at the Kennedy Center. The effect, stunning in New York, is dimmed here.

There are other set pieces that arrive too late or are conspicuous in their arrival, and for a show that has made it largely on eye appeal, this, too, is unfortunate.

The Phantom's lair, spectacular in New York, is every bit as impressive at the Kennedy Center, though it wouldn't hurt to keep that fog rolling more than it does.

What the whole operation needs is a little oil -- oil that will give

the show the fluidity it needs.

Kevin Gray is "The Phantom" here. His voice is a shade more supple than that of Michael Crawford, the original New York "Phantom," but he has a tendency to scream more than he needs. The scenery does enough screaming.

Teri Bibb is Christine Daae, and you never heard a lovelier voice. You may also have never known a more vulnerable Christine, the chorus girl who is loved by the phantom, who would make her a star.

And, of course, he does, by eliminating those who stand in the way of his artistic goals.

Patricia Hurd is Carlotta, the prima donna at the opera house, and Donn Cook is Piangi, the first tenor, and when they do Webber's mock version of "Aida," you never heard a more beautiful sound.

This is when the Webber score is best, when he is aping Verdi. It is also immensely listenable when the principals do "All I Ask of You," "Music of the Night" and the title song.

At other points, the score is Menotti-Webber, and that is when it is least appealing. Maybe Webber will come round the bend. Maybe when he does his next show, he'll get back to more melody.

The Kennedy Center "Phantom" has everything the Broadway show has, beginning with the proscenium with its ornate, gold-leaf groupings and the crosswalk above the proscenium that allows the Phantom to menace those appearing below him.

We also have the proscenium's center cluster, which lowers on wires, holding the Phantom as he bemoans his love for Christine.

For the record, there have been four film versions of "The Phantom of the Opera," plus a rather recent television version, which may have been better than all the movie versions. Charles Dance was the hapless Phantom in that one.

"The Phantom of the Opera" includes some visual tricks the Broadway version did not have three years ago. At the Kennedy, the Phantom has a cane that shoots sparks, something we first saw in "Shogun." Well, "Shogun" did a lot of copying of Webber, so turnabout in this instance is fair play.

"The Phantom of the Opera" will remain at the Kennedy Center through Aug. 31.

"Phantom of the Opera" *** The musical version of the Gaston Leroux tale about the disfigured subterranean resident of the Paris Opera House.

CAST: Kevin Gray, Teri Bibb, Patricia Hurd, Donn Cook, Lisa Falletto, Keith Butterbaugh, David Huneryager

DIRECTOR: Hal Prince

RUNNING TIME: Two hours with one intermission

TICKETS: (202) 467-4600

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