Big Fun With Smaller Musicals: by Kevin M. Thomas

Sometimes big isn’t always better. This proved to be true on a few scaled down musicals I’ve recently seen.

First there’s “Phantom,” which is a (time) scaled down version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber chestnut. This version of “Phantom” has been wowing them in Las Vegas and, like everything Vegas, is has grand sets and a theater named after it. So with larger-than-life sets, how can this be scaled down? It’s shorter! This “Phantom” will blow you away in three-quarters time. Vegas audiences seem to have trouble with shows over two hours. I bet the casinos also lose out. Yet, removing an hour of the show and the intermission has made this “Phantom” tighter and still one of the most grandiose productions ever to play any theater. Everything you want from the show is there: the memorable songs (only incidental songs performed in flashbacks are gone), the great chandelier (I think it’s even more amazing here than in New York), the beautiful sets and costumes including the gondola!

And it’s got noteworthy stars like Tony winner Anthony Crivello (from “Kiss of the Spider Woman”) and Andrew Ragone as an ultra-sexy Raoul that has more charisma than the his New York counterpart.

The last time I saw “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway I thought it seemed tired and I never planned to go back, leaving it for tourists. But when I saw the Vegas version, it makes me want to see this “Phantom” every time I come back to Sin City. Let’s hope with this “Phantom” what happens in Vegas truly stays there. Check out the show at www.phantomlasvegas.com and for possible discount tickets, seek out the city’s half-priced ticket booth or check out www.theatermania.com or www.broadwaybox.com.

Another way to scale back a production may be due to theater-size constraints or budget. Both seem to be challenges for the Willows Theatre Company and in particular their Montgomery Cabaret Theatre in Martinez, CA. But small stage or not, the Willows continues to be amazing in its productions. I recently enjoyed one of the last performances of “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” that was so delightful, it made me want to be among the first to see its “Pageant” musical which plays through June 28, 2009.


“Pageant” played in San Francisco a few years ago to great success. And this production had tough pumps to fill as I love Trauma Flintstone (what a name) in the San Francisco production. This show is well-suited for San Francisco as it’s the story of six finalists in the Miss Glamouresse beauty pageant  – and all contestants are played by men.  Some of the six look  like men in drag but that’s part of the fun. And yet there are a few that really make pretty women, in particular Richard Rust as Miss Texas. And while Rust is the pretty one, Daniel Ross Noble is the talented singer, whose voice knocks the roof off the tiny Montgomery theater. All-in-all, each of the actors get their chance to shine and the show is very witty at the same time, including having songs with clever lyrics referring to each contestant has “something extra.” The winner of  the “Pageant” is different every performance  as select audience members are given numbers to hold up at the end for each contestant…think “Dancing with the Stars” and their judging paddles.

The Willows main stage in Concord and Cabaret in Martinez are both wonderful places to see shows and they’ve been really good at showcasing the forgotten musical rather than the standard overdone productions. And there’s a bonus if you go the Cabaret as they serve an array of snacks, cocktails, desserts and sodas during the show. To get tickets or to see what’s coming next, go to www.willowstheatre.org.