IF YOU GO
What: “The Phantom of the Opera, the musical”
When: 7:30 p.m. April 27, 28, 29 and 30; and 3 p.m. April 30 and May 1.
Where: West Branch High School auditorium, 14277 Main St., Beloit
Tickets: $10 ($8 for students and seniors); call 330-938-4442
“The Phantom of the Opera”
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
When West Branch High theater director John Zamarelli learned that the mega-smash “The Phantom of the Opera” would finally be available to high schools this school year, he leaped at the opportunity.
He applied for — and was granted — the rights last summer. And it appears that his is the only school in the Mahoning Valley that is staging the effects-laden musical.
“Phantom” will be performed at West Branch Wednesday through May 1.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical has been seen by more than 80 million people throughout the world since its 1988 debut in London. With grosses topping $5 billion, it is the most successful entertainment property in history.
Set in 1870, “Phantom” tells the story of the mysterious Angel of Music who lives beneath the Paris Opera House. The hideously disfigured man falls in love with the young singer Christine, devoting himself to creating a new opera star while exercising a reign of terror over the opera house’s occupants.
The West Branch theater department has always gone after the biggest productions. In recent years, it has staged “Les Miserables” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
But for “Phantom,” with its lavish sets, vocal numbers and special effects, it is raising the bar.
“This is truly the most challenging work we have ever accomplished,” said Zamarelli. “The biggest goal for us has been mastering the music, which unlike some of the other great musicals released for high schools to perform, has not been altered or made easier in any way.”
Soon after being granted the rights to the show, the students began intense vocal training. Auditions were held in December and the cast was chosen. Since then the students playing the lead roles have been studying with vocal teacher and opera expert Bill Ambert.
“Even though the show is full of special effects and elaborate sets, the most important thing, and what has made the show the longest running musical in Broadway history, is the beauty of the vocals,” said Zamarelli.
The difficult staging, special effects and elaborate costumes pose another challenge, which the directors are confident they’ve met — with the help of members of the community who lent their expertise.
The famous boat ride, the fog that envelopes certain scenes, and even the huge chandelier crashing to the stage will all be recreated.
A committee lead by West Branch graduate Audrey Carrocce obtained more than 150 costumes for the cast of 60 from the Broadway Costume Co. of Chicago. Area hair stylists are preparing and combing out wigs. West Branch graduates Victor Trimmer and Trevor Mathey designed the lighting and will run the 30 or so microphones that the cast will use.
And dance instructor Christa Harris of Christa’s School of Dance choreographed the show, which will include a group of ballerinas.
The role of the Phantom is being played by West Branch senior Nick Caruso. Christine, the Phantom’s beautiful obsession, is being played by senior Kaylee Yutzy and junior Julia Harris. Raoul, Christine’s love interest and childhood friend, is being played by junior Evan Park.
Working on “Phantom” has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, said Adam Shonce, a senior at West Branch who is playing the role of Piagi. “It has helped our department’s recognition level go through the roof, and the number of kids who want to be involved in theater will definitely increase after this show.”
“This is a wonderful opportunity for West Branch High School,” said director Zamarelli. “There was a great deal of buzz about this piece that has generated a kind of energy we don’t usually experience.”