REVIEW: "The Phantom of the Opera," - Academy for the Performing Arts

“…Close Your Eyes and Surrender!”

In celebration of their 25th Silver Anniversary, APA proudly presents the most popular musical of all time - Andrew Lloyd Webber’s majestic “The Phantom of the Opera,” now playing through March 24th in the Historic Auditorium and Bell Tower at Huntington Beach High School.

At the very heart of the success and longevity of this masterpiece is a luxurious, tuneful score by Webber, clever lyrics by Charles Hart and additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe, along with a book by Stilgoe and Webber.

The musical is based on the 1909 novel “Le Fantome de l’Opera” by Gaston Leroux, partly inspired by historical events and apocryphal tales at the Paris Opera during the nineteenth century.

Entertaining, moving, incredible – this show, unfortunately, leaves no room for criticism. It is magnificent from beginning to end, and you would be hard pressed to see this quality of show on any other high school stage.

Although there are a few moments before the show starts that you might hear the old girl creak slightly, you are snapped to attention right from the very start, when those slightly menacing words of the auctioneer herald the commencement of proceedings.

Sitting front and center in overflowing crowds, directly underneath lot 666, the chandelier of the Paris Opera House slowly rises and illuminates during the chilling overture. This is just one of those theatrical moments you don't soon forget. The portentously swirling keyboards, violins and brass that powers “Phantom’s” title song have a black hole-like immensity, beguiling you with sheer juggernaut bombast. Andrew Lloyd Webber's gothic spectacular still works hard for its audience.

When it all started Jan. 26, 1988, Ronald Reagan was president of the United States, a gallon of gas cost about 90 cents and a ticket for “The Phantom of the Opera” was an unheard of $50. It was the hottest ticket in town. Now, still going strong in 2019, Director Tim Nelson and Choreographer Diane Makas expertly ensure everything is as tautly strung as it needs to be, and that balance between serious romance and gallows humor walks a delicate tight-rope in which this show, at the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts, walks fearlessly. They are assisted by a very able cast.

I was completely overwhelmed by the vibrance and beauty of the whole production. I wasn’t expecting the music to affect me in this way (I had seen Phantom a number of times before), but there were so many moments where I found myself breathless, completely entranced by what was happening on stage. Despite their familiarity, numbers such as “Music of the Night,” “Prima Donna,” “All I Ask of You,” “Masquerade,” “The Point of No Return” and the title song still retain their power and theatrical beauty after decades of public scrutiny. Thanks to the uniform strength of the voices and the soaring orchestrations, if you don't leave the theater humming the songs, you've got a hearing disability.

Cast with literally scores of players, the real test, however, of whether this production lives up to its reputation and legacy is the validity of the central three characters, Raoul, Christine and the Phantom.

There are many ways to make the role of the Phantom work and Patrick McCormick has found his own: a vigorous physical performance, agile like a cat, but laced with rage, grief born from rejection, and ruthless determination. This is a terrifying Phantom, winningly so.

Mr. McCormick’s appearances are eagerly anticipated, as his acting gives ''Phantom'' most of what emotional heat it has. His face obscured by a half-mask - no minor impediment - Mr. McCormick uses a booming, expressive voice and sensuous hands to convey his desire for Christine. His Act I declaration of love, ''The Music of the Night'' - in which the Phantom calls on his musical prowess to bewitch the heroine – becomes tantalizing enticement. Stripped of the mask an act later to wither into a crestfallen, sweaty, cadaverous misfit, he makes a pitiable sight while clutching his beloved's discarded wedding veil. Those who may have seen the previous production of APA’s “Side Show” this past fall, which featured Mr. McCormick’s stand-out supportive role there, will be stunned by the force of his Phantom.

Vocally, his fine, high-baritone is silky, seductive, and powerful. He has excellent control at both the top and bottom of his range, enabling real richn