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Sarah Brightman literally soars in a unique, compelling show

Mix in some Puccini, add a touch of Queen and Procol Harum, and season with Arabic dance music and a stage show that is pure rock spectacle. Stir strongly and you have Sarah Brightman's oddly mishmashed, but charmingly effective show at the FleetCenter on Saturday.

Brightman strikes many critics as merely amusing and eccentric, but that's too facile an observation. Look beyond the surface and there's a true musical seductress growing better with time. She draws from many fields -- musical theater, classical, and rock pomp. And the latest is world music with "Harem," her new album, which allows her to play an Arabian princess on stage.

Known for her role in "Phantom of the Opera" (and her now-defunct marriage to "Phantom" founder Andrew Lloyd Webber), Brightman has matured into an adept performer who transcends stereotypes and boasts an unusual touring production. Her singing can be up-and-down, veering from awkward to enrapturing, but her show helps her to literally soar, as she pops up on hydraulic lifts, takes a harness ride over the audience, and dons a tutu to swing over the crowd from a B stage such as those used by U2 and the Rolling Stones.

Bedecked in a regal belly dancing costume with a thin, billowing fabric around her shoulders, Brightman started her two-set show with the title track "Harem." She was backed by a 20-piece orchestra (hidden in a rear orchestra pit for most of the night) and similarly exotic dancers who engaged in some lithesome choreography and later walked through the front aisles sprinkling paper rose petals.

Before a mixed-age crowd of 8,000-plus fans (roughly the same number that saw her at the FleetCenter three years ago), Brightman followed with two more "Harem" songs in "Beautiful" (waltzing about in gold lame boots) and the sensuous, disco-operatic "It's a Beautiful Day."

Brightman spoke few words, though she did say she was "happy to be here in this beautiful, historical city of Boston." But she didn't have to banter to get a reaction. That was done through her surprise song-hopping, going from the Kansas hit "Dust in the Wind" (joined by two acoustic guitarists on the B stage reachable by a catwalk) to Queen's "Who Wants to Live Forever." For that one she was on another hydraulic lift high above the B stage (obviously she has no fear of heights because there were no railings on any of these lifts).

Brightman used no video screens to project her image, preferring to do it through a series of lifts and ramps that brought her closer to the fans. She furthered that intimacy with the operatic highs of "La Luna" and "Time to Say Goodbye" (from "Phantom"), which climaxed this fearless, compelling performance.

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