Given that the Lloyd Webber version of “Phantom of the Opera” is still selling out on Broadway after nearly two decades, what do regional theaters do to take advantage of the unparalleled public appetite for singing “Phantom”s? They perform Maury Yeston’s “Phantom, ” of course, as the late Candlelight Dinner Playhouse did for over a year with great success a decade and a half ago and in the wake of Porchlight Music Theatre’s smash success with “Ragtime,” the company is hoping that lightning may strike twice. In its purest form, “Phantom” is, of course, a classic “Beauty and the Beast” tale, but it is precisely that element which gets lost in the shuffle of this adaptation, which prefers instead to wildly speculate on the nature of the Phantom’s rather dysfunctional family. Instead of an inverted love scene where the Phantom learns that it is he, not Christine, that is incapable of loving his hideous-looking self, this Phantom instead has a love scene of another sort with a long-lost family member that shows that he’s really not so bad, he’s just misunderstood because he was rejected because of a birth defect and was raised hiding around in an opera house. Other than one murder and the chandelier incident—and even those are sympathetically explained away in this telling—all of the villainy and mystery of the original “Phantom” has been cleaned up so that instead of a monstrous genius, we are given the Elephant Man with a cape fetish. The original motivation for the Phantom wanting to help Christine is to take her away from her boyfriend by having her devote herself exclusively to her art form, but here, she doesn’t even have a boyfriend until rather late in the show. This version is willing to go down all sorts of dead-end plot mazes that have nothing to do with the original story, but when all is said and done, the big climax of any “Phantom”—namely, the unmasking—never even happens and the audience is never given the payoff of even a glimpse of the character’s face. Kind of like, uh, forgetting to show us the hump on your back if you’re doing “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” (Dennis Polkow)
At the Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 West Belmont, (773)327-5252. This production is now closed.