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CAPSULE REVIEW : Ken Hill’s ‘Phantom’ Is Low on Dread

TIMES THEATER CRITIC

There are more ways than one to mess up “The Phantom of the Opera.” One way is to turn the Phantom into Jack the Ripper. That’s the approach of the new film, whose appeal would seem to be largely to surgery fans.

Another way is to spoof the story. That’s the approach of Ken Hill’s “Phantom” at the Wiltern Theatre--not to be confused with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom” at the Ahmanson, which is said to have been inspired by Hill’s version.

Not that you would confuse the two shows. ‘Phantom” at the Ahmanson has scale. “Phantom” at the Wiltern--that glorious monument to zigzag Art Deco--is dinky. You have heard of bus-and-truck shows. This one looks as if it folds into a Volkwagen van, with the cast sitting up front.

It’s possible to send up a horror story and still make the audience believe it. Broadway’s “Dracula” did it. Hill’s “Phantom” can’t. Hill gets in some comical digs at opera in performance, but can’t find a way to present its Phantom (Steve Blanchard) as a figure of dread, let alone pathos.

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At worst, he’s a gentleman cat burglar with a mild yen for sopranos, and we don’t particularly care if he gets Christine (Rebecca Baxter) or not. Nor does Christine. We do get awfully tired of the interminable chase to the Phantom’s lair in the second act, which lacks scenic resources.

The show’s good points include the fact that most of the company can sing; a clever sight gag regarding that crashing chandelier, and Robert Jensen’s bumble-puppy portrayal of Christine’s fiance, Raoul. In general, though, this is a miniature show masquerading as a big-ticket musical.

(Top price is $35.)

A complete review will run in Friday’s Calendar section.

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