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Lavish production rewards crowd at Justin-Siena's 'Phantom of the Opera'

Lavish production rewards crowd at Justin-Siena's 'Phantom of the Opera'

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One of the most popular stage musicals of all time on both sides of the Atlantic, “The Phantom of the Opera” tells the story of a disfigured musical genius who haunts the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera, waging a reign of terror over its occupants, all for the unwitting benefit of a young protégée whom he trains and loves.

Based on Gaston Leroux's famous novel, the 1986 West End smash hit was quickly brought to the United States, where it opened at New York’s Majestic Theatre in 1988, repeating its London success.

The longest-running show on Broadway, “The Phantom of the Opera” marked another milestone a few months ago, celebrating 23 years entertaining audiences on the Great White Way.

Rarely do the producers of a show still playing on Broadway grant performance rights to others eager to stage such shows. However, that they did, and, in the school’s pioneering, often cutting-edge spirit, Justin-Siena High School put in its bid.

Upping the ante, the powers-that-be at Justin-Siena decided an operatic spectacle like Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom” deserved staging in a real theater, rather than the usual gymnasium.

So, last weekend Napa residents showed they were eager to see if the local high schoolers could pull it off.

The production is lavish, the music (albeit recorded) is as hauntingly memorable as ever, the youthful voices soar. Period costumes are elegant, often stunning. The ballet is lovely; even the casting of teachers and administrators adds luster to this monumental effort, which is not always the case. Judging by Saturday night’s cheering throng, the landmark Justin-Siena production of “The Phantom of the Opera” is a big, fat hit.

Despite some awkward blocking, pregnant pauses and staircase that leads to nowhere, the Justin-Siena production gets high marks because of the outstanding talent and dedication of the cast and supporting crew.

Max Risch provided Saturday night’s audience with a Phantom who appeared more bon vivant than monster. His early duets were strong, although the strain of the role took its toll late in the performance. His most menacing moments came during his strong rendition of the title song.

Annemarie Mendonsa is a lovely Christine, her beautiful voice raising gooseflesh on more than one occasion. Her duet with a new opera patron and suitor named Raoul on “All I Ask of You” — with the Phantom adding his scornful two cents — brought the first act to a chilling climax. In addition, Mendonsa’s early bid to play leading roles, “Think of Me,” turned out to be one of the high points of the evening.

As Raoul, Comte de Chagny, Christian Say is in both fine voice and form as Christine’s childhood friend, new opera patron and current suitor. His duets with the opera’s ingenue were strong, as was a defiant tack displayed in “Bravo, Monsieur!”

Mary Gerlomes proves the ideal Carlotta, the Opera’s resident soprano prima donna, with a gorgeous voice and larger-than-life image of a spoiled grown-up brat.

From the administration, Robert Jordan and Noel Hesser are convincing as the new owners of the Opera, while Thom McDermott is equally sharp as landowner eager to unload the haunted venue. Jim Day turns in a yeoman effort as the company’s leading tenor.

Philip Bartelt proved downright creepy as the Opera’s chief stagehand, while Sarah Francke is cold, uptight and tight-lipped as the ballet mistress. Equally fine in cameo roles were Gabbrielle Danzeisen, Caleb Hiene and Sebastian Maldanado. Also deserving mention are the four ballerinas — Jacqueline Adair, Margret Martin, Sophia Smith and Sidney Tremblay — whose lovely efforts were choreographed by Napa Regional Dance Company.

Kudos are due, as well, to the 35 members of the chorus who helped provide memorable moments throughout the evening, including the charming Act Two opener, “Masquerade.”

Yountville might not be Broadway. But don’t tell that to the 954 people who were standing, applauding and cheering at the conclusion of Saturday night’s nearly sold-out performance.

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