By Libby Nicolay
With the iconic “Phantom of the Opera” just concluding its three-decade run on Broadway, audiences worldwide have time and again been enthralled by the epic tale of love and obsession. While the original may have taken its final bow, Cabrillo Playhouse is poised to rekindle the enchantment and bring to life the haunting story that has left audiences spellbound for a generation.
Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s “Phantom” is a version of the timeless classic that has long been eclipsed by Webber's version. However, this “Phantom” has its own story to tell, and one that delves even deeper into the character of the Phantom and sheds light on the mysterious origins of his facial disfigurement.
Surprisingly, Yeston and Kopit's “Phantom” was penned at the same time as Webber's. However, fate favored the latter, and it reached Broadway first. Michael Lopez, the director of this production and Artistic Director of Cabrillo Playhouse, is intimately familiar with this version, having worked on it previously over a decade ago. He shared that, though it follows the same book by Gaston Leroux, this story will dive deeper into the Phantom and his background, and the events that shaped his character.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this production is its ambition to deliver a big show on a relatively small stage. Lopez revealed how he embarked on such a challenge. "I literally stepped to the back of the theater, looked at the stage, and envisioned, can we do this show on this stage?” he said. “Phantom of the Opera” isn't available for theaters to produce, so that's one of the reasons we chose this version. And I love the music from this version as well." This production not only resurrects the beloved characters but also goes deeper into the narrative, offering a different perspective on the beloved tale. Lopez expects audiences to be drawn into a world where the characters we know and love are explored in even greater detail.
Aside from mesmerizing melodies and stunning set designs, the story also carries big themes and messages. Lopez considered the idea of someone grappling with disfigurement and striving to prove that they're not inherently evil, despite the world's prejudices. "You get to understand how he became the way he was," said Lopez about the Phantom.
Like any grand theatrical production, “Phantom” presents its fair share of challenges and rewards. Lopez explained how the visual design aspects of the show, particularly the story’s multiple locations, presented a unique set of design challenges - one in particular being the creation of the Phantom’s underground lair with a lake.
However, Lopez and his team have been resourceful, reaching out to fellow theatres and collaborators to obtain props and even a boat for the production. Lopez described the process of bringing these elements to the stage as an adventure in itself.
A critical aspect of bringing the captivating eeriness of “Phantom” to life is in its production design. The play's tone and atmosphere hinge on deliberately designed lighting, fog effects, and, most interestingly, the use of fabrics. Lopez has been fortunate to obtain beautiful, heavy-duty curtain fabrics that will help bring the Phantom’s underground lair to life.
For Lopez and the entire cast and crew, this production is not just about bringing a story to life, but about surprising and leaving a mark on Cabrillo audiences while showcasing the talent and quality that the Playhouse has been known for. Audiences can expect to leave the theater sharing a sentiment that Lopez often hears about his productions: "Wow, I didn't think they were going to be able to do that, and they did."
Beyond its technical and creative challenges, “Phantom” is a touching story about a person born into a world that shunned them. It's a tale of how they navigate their fate to make the best of what life has dealt them. Prepare to be captivated by the magic that unfolds in Phantom at Cabrillo Playhouse—a journey into the redemptive power of love.
Libby Nicolay is a writer and local theater enthusiast working in the entertainment industry throughout Orange County and beyond.
202 Avenida Cabrillo, San Clemente, CA
September 15 - October 5, 2023
(949) 492-0465, www.cabrilloplayhouse.org