Phantom's Leading Ladies, a trio of Broadway veterans who have all performed the role of "Christine Daae" from The Phantom of the Opera brought an eclectic evening of music and mostly glorious three-part harmonies to The Annenberg Theater on April 14. The women that comprise The Phantom's Leading Ladies -- Teri Bibb, Karen Culliver and Mary D'Arcy -- have collectively performed more than 4,000 performances of Broadway's longest running musical and have played opposite 32 different Phantoms – on Broadway, on national tours and in Canada.
Let's start with the venue!! The Annenberg Theatre is a 433-seat state of the Art Theatre uniquely located within The Palm Springs Art Museum. It is truly a jewel box and perfectly suited for intimate musical theatre and cabaret. The sound was stellar! The lighting, though very simple, was the perfect compliment to the feel of the show. There was no program credit given to any designer or engineer but, whomever they are, they deserve kudos for artistic quality!
Accompanied by a rhythm section (Mary Ekler; Piano – Jim McClarty-Drums – Kirk Smith-Bass) the Ladies began offstage --- their crystal clear harmonies singing "Optimistic Voices" from The Wizard of Oz , setting the stage for what promised to be an evening of first class musical entertainment. It was – for the most part. The show was uneven and inconsistent. The vocals went from pristine to pitchy and back again. The staging went from very effective to over-choreographed to corny and back again. I am not sure if the ladies are "self-directed" – there was no program credit or mention of a director – but their show could use the keen eye and judicial editing of a solid director.
Teri Bibb was the star of the evening and pretty much flawless. Her voice is golden. Her stage presence is engaging at every turn. Her solo turns of "Tonight" and "Now" were show highlights. Mary D'Arcy was at her best with her performance of "Till There Was You" and not so successful with "Defying Gravity" which seemed both out of her range and out of her character. Karen Culliver (the show's "comedienne", delivering most of the mediocre "punchlines") was the weakest of the three --- both of her solo turns, "I Can Cook Too" and "Old Devil Moon" showcased her as more of a very talented community theatre singer-actress and not the performer with all of the professional credits listed in her resume. To be fair, I wondered more than once if she was just not "in voice" or was under the weather that evening and, if that was the case, she was a real trouper.
The threesome is dynamic as a trio --- less so in their solo and duet performances. Their banter was not particularly funny or interesting, but they are all very likeable. There is a comedy rule of "three" for any good joke --- do it three times and it will pay off biggest in the end – but they proved that wrong with a musical "Phantom Intro" that the pianist played over and over … and over …and it got less funny every time. Again, the eyes of a strong director might sharpen the material.
Their harmonic interpretations of "You Could Drive A Person Crazy", "Here, There And Everywhere" and "Three Little Maids" were shining examples of excellence. They closed the show with a "Phantom" Medley that was both witty and quite wonderful and each of the ladies took a turn at one of Christine's infamous solos – Teri's "Think Of Me" was by far the strongest --- but this medley truly showcased their Broadway talents and explained any questions I had about the rest of the evening. The crowd limped a bit to their feet for what might be called a "lukewarm standing ovation" and the ladies honored the audience with an encore – "Seasons Of Love" from Rent.
All in all --- even though my review might seem critical --- I had a wonderful time in the theatre and it was, as always, a pleasure to spend an evening enjoying such immense talent. The Annenberg has presented a very diverse and entertaining season and should be commended for bringing some of Broadway and The Cabaret World's leading entertainers to the desert and one of its finest theatrical venues.