Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Downtown Cabaret Theatre
Review by Zander Opper | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's review of The Phantom of the Opera

Anna Fagan and Max J. Swarner
Photo by Kevin McNair
Downtown Cabaret Theatre is currently presenting a splendid production of the little-seen musical Phantom, which has a score by Maury Yeston and a book by Arthur Kopit. Not to confused with the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Charles Hart/Richard Stilgoe mega-hit musical that is the longest running show in Broadway history, this Phantom is a somewhat more melodic, gentler adaptation of the same source material, and it also explores more of the backstory of the title character.

Thanks to a cast recording released in the early 1990s, Phantom has had a life in regional theatres and it is utterly wonderful to discovery it anew. Thanks to a magnificent cast, who all have glorious voices, and a superb physical production, this production is highly recommended as a rich evening of theatre and, as long as you're not expecting Andrew Lloyd Webber's music, you should be very satisfied with the results.

While both Phantom musicals contain some of the same characters and similar plot points, comparing the two shows is really like comparing apples and oranges. Each boasts its own strengths, with the trump card for Phantom being its luscious score.

In the title role, Max J. Swarner gives a fine performance; one can truly feel his anguish at being secluded in the basement of the opera house. Swarner has a terrific voice and it shines in such numbers as "Where in the World" and "Without Your Music." In this musical, the audience never gets a good look at the Phantom's face, though it is described as being truly horrific. This actor is able to draw all the empathy from the character's sadness, and his portrayal of the Phantom (Erik) is very moving.

As Christine, Anna Fagan is something of a revelation. She was previously seen in Amadeus at Downtown Cabaret Theatre, but, here, with a strong, silvery soprano, she sings her songs to a fare-thee-well. From the charming opening number, "Melodie de Paris," to the heart-tugging "My True Love" and the overwhelming duet with the Phantom called "Home," Fagan is a stunner and, if anyone is looking to present a revival of the musical Carnival, she would make the ideal star.

The other leading characters get wonderful material, too. As the Count Philippe de Chandon, the dignified Josh Hahn is excellent and he delivers the lovely duet, "Who Could Ever Have Dreamed You Up?", opposite Christine in the first act. Also scoring points is Brian Cook as Cholet, the new owner of the opera house, bringing the right stature to the role. As his wife, opera diva Carlotta, Carly Callahan nearly steals the show with her appropriately scenery-chewing antics and her driving rendition of "This Place Is Mine." Finally, Perry Liu is quite touching as Gérard Carrière and he gives perhaps the most thrilling vocal performance in his final notes of "You Are My Own," a duet he shares with the Phantom. The members of the ensemble are all very good, as well.

This production would be worth checking out simply because the musical is produced so infrequently, but it is truly enchanting, with a multi-level scenic design by William Russell Stark and beautiful costumes, credited to DB Productions and Renee Purdy. Director Eli Newsom has done a terrific job with this show. The haunting score is fantastically played by the off-stage orchestra under the expert musical direction of Clay Zambo.

It's great that Downtown Cabaret Theatre should offer such splendor in its presentation of this musical.

Phantom continues performances at Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, Connecticut, through December 10, 2017. For tickets, please visit or call the box office at 203-576-1636.

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