Lawrence Toppman

CPCC Theatre outdoes itself with ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

The Phantom Of The Opera (Ryan Deal) bewitches soprano Christine Daae (Anna Belle Lusk).
The Phantom Of The Opera (Ryan Deal) bewitches soprano Christine Daae (Anna Belle Lusk).

Before Sunday afternoon, I had seen six productions of “The Phantom of the Opera,” all of them professional. But not until I saw CPCC Theatre’s version did I realize what a difference passion makes.

That’s not to say Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman and all the Phantoms and Christines I’ve watched didn’t put their hearts into their work. But the cast at Halton Theater has waited years to do this show, some since they heard the music as elementary schoolers. The result is the best musical I have seen at CPCC since coming back to the theater beat seven years ago – maybe the best I have ever seen there.

The college put all its arts resources behind this joint production of the music, opera, dance and design departments.

Conductor Alan Yamamoto sets wise tempos in the pit, presiding over the largest orchestra I’ve heard for a Charlotte musical. (The program credits 33 musicians.)

Set designer Bob Croghan has met technical challenges – excluding the chandelier, which hasn’t scared anyone from day one of the Broadway opening in 1988 – and created a sense of mystery. Croghan and Jamey Varnadore’s costumes dazzle us in “Masquerade” (no staircase, and I didn’t miss it), and lighting designer Jennifer O’Kelly makes smart choices.

Ron Chisholm and Clay Daniel have created credible ballets and effective non-dance movement. Their care with detail extends to the way prima ballerina Meg Giry (Aubrey Young) stands, walks and runs; she never stops moving like a dancer, even when she’s not dancing. We may not notice this touch consciously, but it adds atmosphere.

The lead actresses alternate nightly; I saw Karley Kornegay, who plays Christine as a giddy young artist with potential greatness in front of her and a large talent she has just begun to tap. (At 17, Kornegay fits that bill herself.)

Ryan Deal’s Phantom is more tender and imploring than manipulative; he’s not irredeemably mad or cruel at the start of the show – a refreshing idea – so he’s a romantic challenger for the impetuous, ardent Raoul of Matt Carlson. All three sing strongly, as does Rebecca Cook-Carter as petulant but vocally commanding diva Carlotta Giudicelli.

Director Tom Hollis keeps the emotional intensity high and the pace as swift as set mechanics allow. He descends to cheap, unstylish humor only once, in the Mozartean parody “Il Muto”; the rest of the time, he lets jokes develop naturally.

Hollis, Yamamoto and the singers trust this musical to deliver its emotional effects, as it always does. But they also bring a zeal and energy to their approach that makes this production unique.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘The Phantom of the Opera’

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Halton Theater, 1206 Elizabeth Ave.

Running time: 165 minutes with one intermission.

Tickets: $18-20 ($10 students).

Details: 704-330-6534 or