'The Phantom of the Opera' staged by London Ontario's Grand Theatre High School Project
A 25th Anniversary Celebration now onstage
A Dazzling and Twirling spectacle reflecting the Grand’s theme this year of ‘Pure Imagination’. The High School Project’s complete commitment to 'Phantom', along with the clever directorial/musical vision of the show, make this opening night a pick for Voice Choice.
Two wondrous things occurred on September 22.
First, ‘Phantom of the Opera’s back. This time, the youth of the Grand Theatre’s High School Project (HSP) celebrates its 25th anniversary by tackling the behemoth nature of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe’s story in all respects.
Second, this 40+ member cast makes the show work! Amazingly!
Typically, I don’t review youth shows and was skeptical about ‘Phantom’s staging because mega bucks are needed to pull off the spectacle of the production. Agreed, there was money here to produce the show; however, could young people who have not been vocally trained to sing this score even bother attempting it?
I’ve been proven wrong and am proud to admit it.
Sure, there were odd technical glitches during the show. Periodically, the singing might not have been as strong in some musical numbers. I’m willing to overlook these issues and cut some slack.
These young people are a reminder of the power and transformation of the arts on themselves and the world they know. That’s the goal behind HSP, as it provides a solid base for emerging artist training. I hope to see some of these people on live stages again.
See this ‘Phantom’ because word of mouth will occur and tickets will fly out the door quickly.
Gaston Leroux’s tale of the facially disfigured musical genius (Kieran Prouty at this performance) roams the catacombs of Paris’s Opera Garnier. He falls in love with young soprano Christine Daaé (Camila Rodriguez at this performance), who becomes the star of the new production of ‘Hannibal’ after diva Carlotta (Stella Yanga) walks out on the company of artists during the final dress rehearsal. New theatre managers Messrs. Firmin and André (Isaac Szoldatits and Ryan Shaw) try to assuage the cast members' fear of the Opera ghost.
Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Will Cramp at this performance), re-enters Christine’s life. They knew each other long ago when they were children. Raoul and Christine fall in love, much to the dismay and anger of the Phantom who plots his revenge to ensure Christine will remain with him forever.
Director Andrew Tribe chooses to steer away from that creepy, possessive element of the Phantom towards Christine. Instead, the story is seen from the young female protégé’s point of view, and it makes sense in this production. Before the auction opens the show, Christine eerily crosses downstage from stage right toward the ghost light. Very effective. Tribe also stages brief moments from Christine’s past when she was a little girl with her now-deceased father. This is another solid choice as it connects the audience to the heartbreak Christine experiences in the trauma of losing her father.
The visual aesthetics in the production remain stunning throughout, one being the grandeur of London’s Grand Theatre with its plush red velvet seats and gorgeous ornamental work throughout the space. Scott Penner’s set design nicely captures the Opera Garnier stage. The famous chandelier rises in front of the audience into the theatre’s fly space. Thanks to the stage's motorized turntable, every inch of space is used to its maximum. Kimberly Purtell’s lighting design beautifully captures that ghostly and gothic look from long ago. Aaron Ouellete’s sound design remains sharp, especially in that moment when the doors of the theatre are secured to keep the Phantom in the auditorium. Lisa Wright’s magnificent costume designs become a glorious feast for the eyes with the colours and textures of the clothing fabrics.
Floydd Ricketts must be duly acknowledged for his concerted work making these 14-18-year-old youth sound excellent vocally. There are some primo moments when the company and individual members shine, and I give a round of appreciative applause. At the end of Christine’s aria, ‘Think of Me’, a cadenza showcases the vocal range of the young woman.
Is it going to be altered for this production?
Not at all as young Camila Rodriguez gives it her all, and it sounds lovely from my seat.
Additionally, the opening of the second act with the New Year’s celebration of ‘Masquerade’ becomes a visual feast for the eyes as the actors enter from all corners of the auditorium. The choral singing at the song’s conclusion sent shivers down my spine.
One of the most noteworthy elements of the High School Project’s production is incorporating the 40 + students on stage. Director Tribe blocks the actors so that there are good sightlines from the house. Choreographer Nicola Pantin stages many of the dance numbers that enhance the opulence of the story. The eight-member Corps de Ballet remains en pointe during the Hannibal dress rehearsal sequence and in the number just before the murder of flyman Joseph Buquet (Blake Carey). Pantin’s staging of ‘Masquerade’ at the top of the second act is visually remarkable. Again, every inch of space is fully used to maximum effect. Nothing ever appears crowded.
There’s a great deal of promise in the performances on opening night.
Kieran Prouty’s Phantom remains haunting and mysteriously childlike. When Christine removes his mask to see him for the first time, Prouty’s credible utterance of a subdued and whispered cry is touching. Camila Rodriquez’s Christine remains sweetly naïve until she is pushed to the breaking point of choosing between the Phantom and Raoul. Will Cramp is a charming and daring Raoul ready to prove his love for the woman he adores.
Stella Yanga remains a delightfully stereotypical diva in Carlotta. Yanga’s vocal range is also as impressive as Rodriguez’s. Leo Sigut’s Piangi is a terrific complementary blowhard to Yanga’s Carlotta. Hosna Emami’s Mme. Giry, the ballet mistress, is that proverbial workhorse of a teacher who only wants perfection from her ‘petits rats’ in the Corps de Ballet. Isabelle Parent is darling as Meg, Mme. Giry’s daughter and Christine’s confidante. The final tableau at the end of the play with Meg and the company in the Phantom’s lair remains etched in my mind as I write this article. Isaac Szoldatits and Ryan Shaw are delightful as Firmin and Andre, the silly comic managers of the Opera, especially in the series of letters written by the Phantom.
Credit must also be given to the strong ensemble of the Opera Company members and the Corps de Ballet. They create unique and specific characters throughout the show, even for a few minutes.
Final Comments: What a treat to watch these young people do what they love to do – perform in front of an audience. At one point, I felt my eyes welling. As a retired teacher, I felt pride in watching young people succeed when they set their minds and hearts to complete an assigned task.
I spoke with Director Andrew Tribe the day before. He said he worked hard because these High School Project members deserve the best.
These young people gave their best opening night. It showed.
They have a formidable task ahead these next three weeks to continue giving their best in each performance.
I have every confidence they will.
And that’s why you should get tickets.
Running time: approximately two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission.
‘The Phantom of the Opera’ runs on the Spriet Stage at London, Ontario’s Grand Theatre, until October 7, 471 Richmond Street. For tickets, call the Box Office at (519) 672-8800 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.
The Grand Theatre’s HIGH SCHOOL PROJECT production of
‘The Phantom of the Opera’ Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lyrics by Charles Hart
Additional Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. Book by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Based on the novel ‘Le Fantôme de l’Opéra’ by Gaston Leroux
Director: Andrew Tribe
Music Director: Floydd Ricketts /Associate Music Director and Conductor: Matthew Atkins
Choreographer; Nicola Pantin
Set Designer: Scott Penner
Costume Designer: Lisa Wright
Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell
Sound Designer: Aaron Ouellette
Stage Manager: Alice Ferreyra Galliani
Performers: Emma Bishop, Tristan Brew, Blake Carey, Will Cramp, Evan Doerr, Hosna Emami, Spence Jackson, Jordyn Gowling, Isabelle Parent, Ethan Pickett, Kieran Prouty, Camila Rodriguez, Ryan Shaw, Leo Sigut, Oliver Stanton, Isaac Szoldatits, Stella Yanga (plus more names in the Opera Company and the Corps de Ballet)