There’s a ghost of a chance to regret this opera

Ezra Hernandez and Carmen Mitchell reign supreme in their roles as The Phantom and Christine.

Kelsey Matzen, Staff Writer

Rating: 5/5

It was raining the night I attended “The Phantom of the Opera,” the Santa Rosa Junior College Theatre Arts’ most recent production, and the rain created the perfect mood for the dark and dismal performance to follow.

Dark and dismal in a positive way, of course —the story of “The Phantom of the Opera” is marked by gloom and melancholia. Based on the novel “Le Fantome de l’Opera” by Gaston Leroux, this musical tells the story of The Paris Opera in 1881 and the notorious Phantom who haunts it.

From the cellars, The Phantom controls the theatre, leaving instructions and performing malevolent acts when his instructions are not met. He only reveals himself to one person: the lovely yet overlooked Christine, whom he trains to be a masterful singer and to take over the lead of all the theatre’s shows. What follows is a tragedy show about love triangles, death, music and the humanity that slumbers within all of us.

The strongest point of this show was the exceptional cast; there was not a weak link among any of them. Different actors played some of the more prominent characters on different nights. On the night I attended, Ezra Hernandez played The Phantom and managed to portray the character as appropriately terrifying while still making the audience fall in love with him. He seamlessly flowed between emotions, playing a heartbroken man who has never known love one moment, then a terrible devil hell-bent on revenge the next.

In the end, though, he showed who The Phantom truly is: a normal man who wanted to be loved. The only thing more impressive than his acting was his singing, which filled the Burbank auditorium with a rich sound. The Phantom is referred to as “The Angel of Music,” but the true Angel of Music is arguably Hernandez.

The star of the show was Carmen Mitchell, who played the young ingénue Christine. In this role, it’s easy to become overshadowed by the theatrics of The Phantom, but Mitchell managed to bring boldness to the character that helped her stand out beside him. It didn’t hurt that her voice is clear, crisp and absolutely beautiful. She was able to match, if not exceed Hernandez during many of their scenes together. I’m surprised that none of the overhead lights shattered with some of those notes she hit.

The rest of the cast cannot be ignored; they were all brilliant and shined in their own ways. Lani Basich, who played the ridiculous diva Carlotta, dominated the stage during her scenes, strutting around, preening and making every rational person hate her. Despite this, no one can deny that her singing voice is fantastic, a beautiful sound that does not match up at all with the annoying character. Matthew Billings, cast as Christine’s childhood love Raoul, is reminiscent of a young Leonardo DiCaprio – without the smarm and with more singing talent – in the way that he charms everyone in the room, both onstage and in the audience. Even the non-speaking roles, the dancers and the ensemble, impressed and occupied the stage with their bold and striking movements.

Though all of the singing in the show was fantastic, it would have been useless without the orchestra to back it up. Though hidden in the pit, these musicians made their talent known with their well-timed and hauntingly beautiful music.

In order to completely immerse the audience in the world of The Paris Opera, the theatre department used stunning scenery and costumes that rivaled those seen on the stages of Broadway. The intricate backdrops and props looked real even to the discerning eyes in the front row; they could pass as actual pieces taken straight from a Parisian opera house. The costumes are beautiful and detailed, from the elaborate gown worn by Carlotta in the rehearsals for “Hannibal” to the simple white dress Christine dons to sing with The Phantom. The dancer’s costumes are particularly striking, almost to the point of drawing attention away from the actors on stage, but The Phantom quickly stole this attention back with a swish of his subtly glittering cape.

“The Phantom of the Opera” was, in one word, incredible, and it was the work of devoted, talented professionals-not one area of the play lagged. All showings of it sold out by the first weekend, to no surprise. Anyone lucky enough to catch this show will be dreaming about their very own Angel of Music for quite some time.