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The Phantom of the Opera

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THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, Cadillac Palace Theatre. Andrew Lloyd Webber wants very, very much for his megamusical to be an opera about an opera. But its first-act spoof of a 19th-century opus of the Meyerbeer persuasion, "Hannibal," is no more overwrought than the show that frames it. Webber's pastiche pays ardent homage to composers from Giacomo Puccini to Frederick Loewe, and there's a pumped-up passion to "The Music of the Night" and "All I Ask of You." What's missing is a text that would make us understand the Phantom's drive to control rising young star Christine. What little we learn of his motivation is ludicrously lame: he's shaking down the Paris Opera House for money and stealing its soprano. This is Beauty and the Beast with no lesson.

Harold Prince's staging, now on its fourth Chicago visit, offers what for many is enough: spectacle. Along with the pyrotechnics of a floating catwalk, candles rising through stage fog, and 22 set changes, you get powerhouse performances from Gary Mauer as the Phantom, Rebecca Pitcher as his happily harassed protegee, and Tim Martin Gleason as Raoul, the third point in the triangle. Oh yes, and a crashing chandelier.

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