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Review: A spellbinding 'Phantom of the Opera' appears at the Kravis Center

Let’s say you’ve always meant to catch one of the umpteen road tours of “The Phantom of the Opera” rolling through South Florida over the past two decades or so. But for whatever reason, you just never quite committed, and now you’re wondering if the production now in West Palm Beach is worthy.

Yes, it is.

This staging, streamlined and fleet, emerges through mist and cobwebs — literally and figuratively — with a more focused telling of the story based on the 1910 novel “Le Fantõme de l’Opéra” by Gaston Leroux. That alone would be reason enough to buy tickets, but this “Phantom” also has a gold-plated cast, giving Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score some serious soar.

In “Phantom,” an "opera ghost" (Derrick Davis) cruelly tricks a naive ingenue, Christine Daae (Katie Travis), into thinking he is the "Angel of Music" her late father promised to send from the other side. Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny (played by understudy Eric Ruiz on opening night), is the Phantom's romantic rival for Christine's love, and promises to protect her. Adding an acute angle to this love triangle is the opera company’s resident diva, Carlotta Giudicelli (Trista Moldovan), who has an “All About Eve” thing going on with Christine.

It’s all placed neatly on a giant cylinder of a set that rotates, expelling staircases and unfolding sets. The scenic design allows for changes of perspective in something approaching the fluidity of film.

Unlike previous incarnations that came through South Florida, the arrangements feel less bombastic, allowing those celestial voices (not a weak vocal link in the whole cast) to better reveal themselves.

And yet fans of the many productions over the years since the musical debuted in the West End in 1986 and on Broadway in 1988 will purse their lips over a few narrative tweaks and this more grounded, less grand version. It’s doubtful if the same “Phantom” purists will be satisfied with the roiled blocking halfway through the second act, which almost manages to derail the climax we’ve been anticipating for two hours and 15 minutes (with a 15-minute intermission).

Almost. Thankfully, the show has earned so many points with resplendent performances of “The Music of the Night,” “Prima Donna,” “All I Ask of You,” “Masquerade,” “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” and the title song, that those muddy moments recede in the mind even before the curtain calls are done.

“The Phantom of the Opera” runs through April 1 at Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., in West Palm Beach. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays (as well as Tuesday, March 28 and Wednesday, March 29), with 2 p.m. matinees Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays (and Wednesday, March 29). Tickets cost $31 to $103. To order, call 561-832-7469 or go to Kravis.org

rhagwood@southflorida.com

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