A Grand Theatre Spectacle: Phantom of the Opera takes the stage!

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Let me take you back to your high school musical or senior year class production. I’m sure it was Hamlet or West Side Story. The props were made by the students from shop class. The senior band played the soundtrack and the most popular grade 12 students played the lead. It was all very nice, quaint, amusing even. This may be what you think you are going to see when you hear the words The High School Project but you would be very, very wrong.

The annual Grand Theatre production brings together the stars of tomorrow and puts them on a professional stage, with professional mentors, directors, crew and orchestra. It is a much bigger deal than most people think or even give them credit for. This 25th Anniversary production of The High School Project of Phantom of the Opera is a five-star, two-thumbs up, 95% rotten tomato, knocked-it-out-of-the-ballpark kind of production.

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Beautiful Set Design – Phantom of the Opera HSP Grand Theatre Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

I promise you, it will exceed your expectations and dispel any beliefs you may have of an ‘amateur’ high school production. It is so good I know of patrons going back to see it a second time because there are two Christines, two Raouls and two Phantoms. The talent pool was so deep, that they decided to have two sets of lead performers.

I will get this out of the way, right away – you need to go. There are less than 10% of tickets left and I highly recommend this comprehensive, emotional, outstanding production. So get online and get those tickets now! I guarantee from now on, you will be paying more attention to the HSP at the Grand Theatre so you can get your tickets at the end of the summer.

The process of choosing these students from London and surrounding areas begins in early spring. There are workshops and auditions for students from grades 9 through 12 (whether in the public/catholic school system or homeschooled students). There was an application pool of over 300 students with 74 students making the cut, The Phantom of the Opera company is one of the largest in the Project’s history.

It is comprised of 48 students in performing roles; 23 working in production (wardrobe, props, scenic art, sound, stage management, photography and marketing, backstage and lighting); and three in the orchestra. Within the cast, the roles of the Phantom, Christine, and Raoul have been double cast due to the sheer strength of the students who auditioned.

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Phantom of the Opera High School Project Grand Theatre Photo Credit Dahlia Katz (Bishop, Jackson)

This musical is a lot. There are many songs, dance numbers and plenty of scenes with the entire ensemble. The night we attended, Emma Bishop (Christine), Will Cramp (Raoul) and Spence Jackson (Phantom) took center stage. Ms. Bishop was exceptional and sang with the confidence of a professional. She moved easily and convincingly through the scenes. Of all the leads, she took center stage.

On another night you may be privy to Camila Rodriguez (Christine), Oliver Stanton (Raoul), and Kieran Prouty (Phantom) as the leads but you will see them on stage. Director, Andrew Tribe, uses them as mirror characters weaving in and out of the scene to great effect. The illusion is very clever and works well to create mystery.

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Phantom of the Opera High School Project Grand Theatre Photo Credit Dahlia Katz

Of note is the stand-out performance by Stella Yanga as Carlotta, the diva singer. Ms. Yanga’s voice was powerful and deserved every applause that she received throughout the performance and the ovations at the end. I also thought that Hosana Emami as Mme. Giry was very good. She played the matronly ballet mistress and mastered pounding that ballet battu to silence the room.

Phantom of the Opera HSP Grand Theatre Photo Credit Dahlia Katz
Phantom of the Opera High School Project Grand Theatre Photo Credit Dahlia Katz (Emami – centre)

Speaking to diversity and strength of the student performers, Tribe remarks:

“It is thrilling to have a company made up of performers who come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are seasoned performers with years of acting and voice training, who are finding their own challenges posed by the material. And for some students, this is their first stage production! There is a wonderful rawness, freshness, and curiosity that comes from their work and serves as a reminder of that first moment we all fell in love with theatre.”

Director, Andrew Tribe

I loved the dancers throughout the production. Whether they were downstage or upstage, they added gravitas to the scenes. The choreography by Nicola Pantin was delicate and enchanting. The dancers did well with the limited space provided as the staged (in centre stage) took up much of the space.

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Phantom of the Opera HSP Grand Theatre Photo Credit Dahlia Katz

Set designer, Scott Penner, did an exceptional job, of the stage, the boat, the candelabras, and the chandelier. The rotation of the stage created movement and gave us the illusion that we were both in front of- and backstage.

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Organized Chaos – Phantom of the Opera HSP Grand Theatre Photo Credit Dahlia Katz

What I found challenging, as did some of the actors, was the rotating stage that had a few of them losing their balance and stumbling a bit (maybe it was the speed of the rotation or the length of some of the costumes). Because of the size of the ‘stage’, at times, the number of players on the entire stage – at one time I counted up to 39 or 40 – seemed a bit crowded and chaotic. The main characters were lost amongst the imposing stage and large ensemble – so maybe less could have been more.

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Exceptional lighting – Phantom of the Opera HSP Grand Theatre Photo Credit Dahlia Katz

This production also excelled in three parts: costumes, lighting and music direction. Lisa Wright (Costume Designer) outfitted every single actor with the perfect dress, dance kit, suit and top hat. They were layered, well-fitted and appropriate to the character. The fabrics were rich and the colour palette was beautiful.

All was easy to see as Kimberly Purtell (Lighting Designer) set the stage with moodiness and intrigue using shadows, spotlights, candelabras and dim backlights. I thought she did a marvellous job. Lastly, Floydd Ricketts (Music Director) led the audience through a very familiar score but made it exciting for those who may have never heard the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

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Exceptional Costumes – Phantom of the Opera High School Project Grand Theatre Photo Credit Dahlia Katz

Overall the ensemble was very good. There is a very good reason why this production of The Phantom of the Opera is almost completely sold out (I would love to see them add a few more shows). I hope to see these fresh faces in future productions at the Grand Theatre. The talent was deep and many will continue to have a future career on the stage. There is no question I look forward to seeing more from the director to the set and lighting designers, the choreographer and the music director. There is no shortage of talent in the forest city.

Who wrote Phantom of the Opera?

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Charles Hart, Additional Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe

What is the High School Project?

For 25 years, the Grand Theatre High School Project has offered an exceptional opportunity for students to receive education and training in the working environment of a professional theatre, at no cost to the participants.

When are the dates for Phantom of the Opera at The Grand Theatre?

On the Spriet Stage, September 19 – October 7, Opening night is September 22, 2023

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Margarita Ibbott is a travel and lifestyle blogger. She blogs about travel in Canada, the United States and Europe giving practical advice through restaurant, hotel and attraction reviews. She writes for DownshiftingPRO.com and other online media outlets.