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05/24/07 - APA Alumni re-Stage 'PHANTOM' at Rose Center
Dance choreography students from the first 3 years of the school. Add a caption Dance choreography students from the first 3 years of the school. In this photo: Amanda Murphy, Misty Rivera, Deana Occhipinti-Janji, Laura Madalena, Sarah Booke Georgy, Tracy Edmisten, Jessica Cannon, Amanda Borad

By TOM TITUS from the Huntington Beach Independent

A few seasons ago, Huntington Beach's Academy for the Performing Arts produced the "alternate version" of "Phantom of the Opera," a similar but structurally different musical from the more well-known Andrew Lloyd Webber tale of obsessive love and music, entitled "Phantom."

For those who may have missed it, director/musical director Tim Nelson has mounted another production of "Phantom" in a gleaming new showplace, Westminster's Rose Center Theater, with many of the APA students and alumni aboard — including the two leading roles.

This "Phantom," with book by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston's music and lyrics, is a more accessible account of the original Gaston Leroux story of centuries (and movie versions) past than is the Webber account with its grandiose musical crescendos. Kopit delves into the title character's back story, casting his protective father as a major character and giving the Phantom a heart, as well as a murderous rage.

Nelson's energetic production spotlights a pair of tremendous singing voices, both of whom are APA alums. Matt Bartosch fumes and comforts as the disfigured opera ghost hopelessly smitten with the golden voice of the opera's newfound star. Bartosch is a powerful figure with a commanding demeanor whose menacing presence holds an entire opera company in thrall.

Katie Dixon, no stranger to the role of Christine, lifts her stirring soprano skyward with immense fervor as she grows more and more in tune with her masked instructor. Her duet with the Phantom, "You Are Music," is a stirring selection as compelling, certainly, as Webber's "Music of the Night."

In "Phantom," the character of Carlotta is more than a self-centered prima donna -- she's the wife of the opera's new owner -- who has displaced the popular patron and his direct link to the Phantom.

Here, played by the director's wife Mary Murphy-Nelson, she's a domineering diva with a Carol Burnett-like comic quality, deliciously malevolent.

Rusty Vance excels as the displaced theater manager, the heavy-hearted father of the monster in the basement, while Cliff Senior (who also designed the numerous wigs) struts and frets effectively as the new opera chief. Steven Arlen smoothly projects the nobleman who champions Christine's cause, though their romantic attachment gets short shrift in the Kopit script.

The Phantom's history comes with a balletic flashback, here performed by Neil Starkenberg, Rachel Scott and young Terren Mueller. Ballet is spotlighted splendidly under the choreographic tutelage of Diane Makas and Jennifer Simpson-Matthews.

"Phantom" is a particularly colorful production, showcasing the eye-catching costume designs of Jenny Wentworth. Some scratchy sound effects were evident at Saturday's performance, but were alleviated at intermission. And, yes, there is a chandelier scene, though not as dramatically executed as in the Lloyd Webber version.

The powerful vocal projections of Bartosch and Dixon are in themselves reason enough to catch this "Phantom" on its final weekend. These two have a long and rewarding career in musical theater awaiting them.