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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘The Four Phantoms in Concert’ stirs cheers in Oshkosh

Critic At Large

The Grand Oshkosh

Program cover.

OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV)

In a golden past on just the right evenings, singer-friends would take turns wrapping their lustrous voices around favorite songs and arias in an alcove of a white-linen restaurant in Milwaukee. Maybe they were still “on” from having just performed in a musical or operetta at a nearby theater. Or maybe they were singing simply for the sheer pleasure and love of it.

Sterling voices.

Beautiful songs.

Pure emotion.

This was a kind of spontaneous combustion for the ear and heart.

Late-night diners who happened to be on hand were enveloped by the idyllic aura.

Flash to the present, and something like that is going on with “The Four Phantoms in Concert” that is making a return visit to The Grand Oshkosh (Oshkosh Opera House). The singers have a planned program and a band, but the five performers in the show sure can create an aura.

On the first of three nights of the visit Thursday, songs usually were followed by a large wave of applause and cheers – the latter especially erupting from 20 or so invited high school students who wore enthusiasm on their sleeve.

The premise of the evening is to put together four men who had sung the role of The Phantom in “The Phantom of the Opera” in productions all over the map to sing their favorite songs and a few goodies from “The Phantom of the Opera.” The men gathered have done the role 6,000 times collectively. They are joined by a Christine who has sung that role 700 times.

The five sing with hand-held microphones, which is okay but something of the au naturel purity of their voices is cloaked by the amplification system.

Sometimes the men sing as one. Sometimes they take turns singing a section in the same song, which reminds listeners that every human has a signature in his or her voice. In songs as The Phantom, these four guys have something generally the same but always with distinctive touches in the character of the voice – not good, better, best but of a personal quality slightly different than the others.

The show builds to a closing section of songs from “The Phantom of the Opera.” Katie Travis joins the men, and Brent Barrett, John Cudia, Franc D’Ambrosio and Ciaran Sheehan individually or together focus on her in character as a source of desire.

Her voice radiates. The four men have studly voices – full and rich, like falling into a vat of dark chocolate.

Up to this section, the men introduce one another. Stories are told of growing up and shaping a career and why a song to be sung is meaningful. Places like the Bronx, Kansas New Jersey and Ireland become characters in stories.

Most of the songs are from musicals the men have sung in. Then there is “Danny Boy,” with Ciran Sheehan from Dublin, Ireland, gripping heartstrings with the authenticity in his voice.

The singers can envelop a song and enact a character and create a persona, and it’s all done with a precious gift they’ve carried all their life – their voice.

***

Cast:

Brent Barrett

John Cudia

Franc D’Ambrosio

Ciaran Sheehan

Katie Travis

Musicians: Music director – Ryan Shirar; keyboards – Michael Tilley; drums – Jeremy Yaddaw; bass – Andy Sachen; French horn – Bruce Atwell

Oshkosh Chamber Singers: Director – Herb Berendsen; Jaci Cooper, Carmen Leal, Bethany Meyer, Nancy Kaphaem, Adam Minten, Kristopher Ulrich, Ryan Lindley, Nico Bedroske, Herb Berendsen, Gail Goodacre, Terri Fuller, Bridget Duffy-Ulrich, Cassie Glander, Paula Stamborski, Todd Kaphaem, Allen Fuller, Jeff Martin

Running time: One hour 35 minutes, with no intermission

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27-28

Info: thegrandoshkosh.org

***

Songs

+ “Old Friends” – Four Phantoms

+ “This is the Moment” from “Jekyll & Hyde” – Four Phantoms, taking turns as lead

+ “All I Care About” from “Chicago” – Brent Barrett

+ “Speak Softly Love” from film “The Godfather” – Franc D’Ambrosio, in English and Italian

+ “Gethsemane” from “Jesus Christ Superstar” – Ciaran Sheehan

+ “Love Never Dies” from “Love Never Dies,” the sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera” – John Cudia

+ “Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha” – Four Phantoms, taking turns as lead

+ “I Am What I Am” from “La Cage aux Folles” – Brent Barrett

+ “Being Alive” from “Company” – John Cudia

+ “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” from “The Book of Mormon” – Franc D’Ambrosio

+ “Danny Boy” – Ciaran Sheehan

+ “Pretty Women” (?) – Four Phantoms

+ “Brand New World Might Be a Fantasy” (?) – Katie Travis

+ Duets, including “I Hear Music,” “It Only Takes a Moment” and “Tonight” – Katie Travis with individual Phantoms

+ “The Prayer” (“Bring Him Home”) from “Les Miserables” – Four Phantoms with Oshkosh Chamber Choir

+ “The Phantom of the Opera” from “The Phantom of the Opera” – Four Phantoms with Katie Travis

+ “Music of the Night” from “The Phantom of the Opera” – Four Phantoms with Katie Travis

+ “The Best of Times is Now” – Four Phantoms

+ “Old Friends” – Four Phantoms

***

THE VENUE: Located at 100 High Ave. in Oshkosh, the 550-seat Grand Opera House is one of Wisconsin’s showcase surviving theaters. Built for live performance well before the arrival of movies, the theater opened Aug. 9, 1883. Designed by architect William Waters, the building reflects the opulence of the era and the strength of Oshkosh at the time. Roman influences abound in columns and support elements. Ceiling and wall artistry is elaborately detailed. A portrait of William Shakespeare above the stage gives the impression he is overseeing everything. See thegrandoshkosh.org/history for details on the theater’s rich history and ongoing challenges. When you are there, wander around the building – up and down stairways and in and around nooks and crannies – and savor the details along with vintage photos and displays. For instance, in the balcony are elaborate sections everywhere. In the rear ceiling are rectangles fringed by flowers and vines. The largest rectangle includes a crossing pattern with a square at the center that’s angled like a diamond. In the front ceiling, a crossing pattern in the central square leads to a circle which depicts cherubs at play, one riding a fly. The top edge on side walls is curved, with images being a series of potted trumpet vines interspersed with maize. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The building is owned by and receives financial support from the City of Oshkosh.

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