The Phantom of the Opera may contain the most prominent masked man in modern theatre, but it’s the man behind the mask and everyone behind the scenes who are making the latest St. Michaels University School production a masterpiece.
The SMUS performing arts departments are doing four showings of the 1986 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical at the McPherson Playhouse from Feb. 24 to 27, retelling the haunting tale of Erik, the Phantom, in his pursuit of opera singer Christine Daaé.
“It’s just a wonderfully gothic, dramatic story about love, betrayal, obsession and musical genius,” said SMUS theatre director Ian Collett.
“We’re very committed to a large musical theatre program that includes all the students from all the different performing arts course across the school,” he added, noting the play includes 51 actors, 42 orchestra members, 15 technicians and five to 10 costumers.
Collett said the students were inspired to perform Phantom after some of them saw the production on tour in Seattle.
“We got a hold of where the rights were held and we asked if we could have permission to do it, and it was given,” he said. “It’s the first time it’s ever been performed, I believe, in Victoria at the McPherson or Royal theatres, and we’re just fortunate as a school that we’re able to be there.”
Grade 12 student Ethan Otto portrays Erik, the eerie (if not misunderstood) Phantom, who kidnaps his love interest Daaé and terrorizes the Paris Opera. For the high school senior, it’s a role he’s looked forward to for a long time.
“The Phantom is actually one of my dream roles,” said Otto, who has performed extensively with the Victoria Operatic Society. “It’s probably one of the most complex characters I’ve ever played. When he has the mask on, he’s comes as very manly, very powerful. But when the mask comes off, you see weakness in him and pain and suffering. He’s such a bipolar character.”
Otto’s onstage career – which includes local productions of Fame, West Side Story and Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat – started with singing before segueing to musical theatre at 13.
“I auditioned for The Sound of Music with VOS. I didn’t get the role I was going for – I didn’t think I would – but that summer, their youth branch gave me a call and said, ‘Hey, we need some guys to be in the show, we’re doing Les Mis.’
“I audition the first day of rehearsals, thinking I’m going to be chorus, and they offered me the part of Jean Valjean. That was the first lead I got and it really kickstarted me from there.”
The three main roles in Phantom – Erik, Daaé and her childhood friend Raoul – were double cast, with the actors alternating across the three nights and the Saturday matinée. Otto is set to perform in the Friday and Saturday evening shows.
The St. Michaels cast and crew have been working on Phantom for the last five months, getting everything perfect for their four-show run at McPherson. While the rehearsal process has been long and tedious, Otto said it’s worth it when the show comes together.
“You always have the fear, no matter how great you’re doing in rehearsal, that it’s not going to be good enough on opening night. But then there’s also the excitement of finally getting to put this work in front of an audience and get the energy.”
The shows run nightly Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets are $25.25 each and are available through the Royal and McPherson Box Office online at rmts.bc.ca/events/phantom-of-the-opera-2016-mcpherson-playhouse. The Thursday evening show is already sold out.