KPBS AIRDATE: November 1, 1995
(MUSIC: “Phantom” organ chord opener)
Oh, those famous “Phantom” chords. Ominous. Portentous. Repetitive. Nothing has done more to promote the sound of an organ since the roller skating rink. And now, at long last, the masked man is close enough to…. skate to. You don’t have to drive to L.A. or Orange County or the million other places the Phantom has laid down his cloak in the past 9 years, before finally settling into San Diego for a limited six week run.
If you’re already a Phantomaniac, have no fear. This is no scaled-down, watered-down road show. The disfigured one is here at the Civic Theatre in all his phantasmagoric glory. Accompanied by his 10-foot-high, 1000-pound falling chandelier, one elephant, 141 candles rising from the floor, 22 scene changes, 36 performers, 16 musicians — all carted in on 20 48-foot semi trucks. You won’t miss a trick. And basically, it’s all trick and shtick.
As you may be able to surmise, this isn’t my favorite show, and Andrew Lloyd Webber isn’t my favorite composer. He typically has one major number per musical, and he beats it to death till you can’t help but remember the damn thing. In fact, you only wish you could get it out of your head. Maybe “Phantom” is his biggest blockbuster because it’s got about three songs which are done and re-done to distraction. But this production is incredibly well sung.
The cast is really first-rate. As the musical monster, Rick Hilsabeck may not have the knock-you-outta-your-seat charisma of Michael Crawford, but he’s easily got as good a voice, pure and sweet and crystalline. He’s also a very lithe and sensual Phantom. As Christine, the object of his perverse affections, Sarah Pfisterer is a delight: pretty, agile and vocally perfect.
The ensemble is musically robust, with full support of all the costumes, scenery and techno-wizardry you could ever want. Trouble is, it’s heavy on trimmings and light on the main course. Like inventive, non-derivative music; decent dialogue; and characters that, besides the Phantom, have more than two dimensions. As I’ve always said, they just don’t write ‘em like they used to….. But it’s here, and it’s ours (for a time), and I guess you’ve just gotta see it at least once.
Now this is your third opportunity to see another light-weight musical, home-grown, but filled with vocal talent and songs you can’t seem to forget. “Suds, The Rocking ‘60s Musical Soap Opera” has just been extended once again at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. The original version debuted at the Rep in 1987, then it went to the Old Globe and Off Broadway, and now it’s the opener for the Rep’s 20th anniversary season.
Like its kissing cousins, “Forever Plaid” and “Beehive,” you don’t come to this show for the story line, a goofball affair about a young fluff ‘n fold laundromat worker who’s suicidal after being dumped by her boyfriend on her birthday. Enter three guardian angels to rescue her from drinking liquid bleach, and teach her a little about love. Mainly, though, it’s about the music, wonderful songs ranging from “It’s My Party” to “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and the deeply meaningful “Do Wah Ditty Ditty.”
(“Suds,” under, “Do Wah Ditty”) That about says it all….
But the show is lively, often funny, and very well sung by four super-talented folks who keep you in a whirling spin-cycle for two hours. It may be mindless, but it’s good clean fun, and you don’t feel as if you’ve been hung out to dry.
(MUSIC: Out with “Suds” Finale)
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.