'Phantom of the Opera' adaptation is bound for the Australian stage


An original, local musical adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel, "The Phantom of the Opera," is headed Down Under this summer for a two-week booking in Sydney, Australia's new 1,500-seat Hill Center for the Performing Arts.

The work is a Baltimore Actors' Theatre production. The show, with a 26-member cast headed by four professional classical singers, is now in its fourth successful year at the Oregon Ridge Dinner Theatre.

The book and the lyrics for the 18 songs were written by BAT's artistic director and choreographer, Helen Grigal. The company's musical director, Eugene Anderson, composed the operatic-style music.

Last summer the group hired professional New York actors for its Great Britain theater tour, which culminated in a two-week engagement at the International Edinburgh Theatre Festival in Scotland.

"This time we are taking the entire Baltimore cast abroad," Anderson said in a recent interview. "It will be like a paid vacation for them. As before, no salaries but expenses, transportation, food and lodging. They will play Tuesdays through Saturdays -- eight performances a week with Sundays and Mondays off for sightseeing and other activities.

"We are scheduled to open July 17 and run for two weeks, but there is a possibility of extending the run to a third week," he said.

Anderson is quick to explain that the BAT version has no connection with the Andrew Lloyd Webber "Phantom."

It was at the Edinburgh Festival last summer that audience members from Australia saw the production and suggested that BAT bring its "Phantom" to a theater in Sydney, the largest city in Australia.

"I am also a member of the board here in Baltimore for the international Study Abroad Australia program wherein American students participate in classes at Australian universities and colleges," said Anderson.

"I called Qantas Airways and got a free ticket," he added, laughing. "I flew to Australia and visited six of Sydney's most prominent theaters. The last one was the Hill Center for the Performing Arts. The building was so big, so beautiful, so new . . . it blew my mind . . .

"We are the first international group to play there," he said.

Anderson will conduct the six-piece musical ensemble, which features three violinists, an oboe player, one musician working the synthesizer and Anderson playing piano.

He estimates BAT's share of expenses in transporting the show -- with its large cast, elaborate costumes and sets -- to Australia will amount to about $50,000. "But the Hill Theater management is bearing the cost of producing the show in Sydney," said Anderson. "We hope to recoup our money through ticket sales, which we understand have been heavy."

The company will be put up in style at the huge Olympic Center in Sydney.

The major cast members -- Ricardo Chiapetta (the Phantom), Meg Genevese (Christine), James Katchko (Raul), Linda Inauzzi (Carlotta) -- have all performed featured roles with the Baltimore Opera Company and each holds a masters' degree in music from the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

"If all goes well," said Anderson, "The Hill Center would like to bring one of their productions to Baltimore next season and then book us for another engagement in Sydney next summer. We hope to evolve both of these ideas into annual events."

The "Phantom of the Opera" is on stage at the Oregon Ridge Dinner Theatre through July 13. During BAT's Sydney engagement the Oregon Ridge Dinner Theatre will be closed until the company returns. For Oregon Ridge reservations and further information, call 771-8427.

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