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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 10, 2011
Going out for drama
GUILDERLAND The Phantom of the Opera has been seen by over 100 million people around the world; as Broadway’s longest running musical, it has been on stage there for longer than Guilderland High School students have been alive 23 years.
The Guilderland Players are the first in the area to tackle the musical, which presents challenges from its operatic score to its Victorian setting.
“Basically, there are three shows,” said Director Andy Maycock. “There’s the dramatic, passionate piece where you need believable acting to tell a complicated story. There’s the music that is so well known it has to be solid. And there’s the spectacle…. What I’ve been asked more than anything is: ‘How will you do the chandelier?’”
The chandelier forms the physical and metaphysical jumping off point for the play. “It was,” says Maycock, “one of a dozen theatrical tricks we had to figure out.”
The play opens as Raoul, Vicomte de Chagney, an old man, peruses props from the Paris Opéra being auctioned off. A shattered chandelier, the auctioneer says, has a connection to the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera, a mystery never fully explained.
As the chandelier becomes whole again, it rises over the audience to the place where it once hung, lighting the grand old opera house as the theater returns to the 1880s and the show begins. At the end of the first act, when Raoul is a young opera patron courting the singer Christine Daaé, the ornate chandelier crashes to the floor.
The Guilderland High School auditorium is a mid-20th-Century theater with an angular jutting stage and clean, modern lines not a single chandelier or bit of ornate trim in sight.
“I sat down with Erik Keating,” said Maycock, naming one of the students working on the complex set, “and we drew out an elaborate system. He worked on a prototype for two or three weeks. I drove him crazy with it because it had to be safe…He kept saying, ‘Can we build it and make it safe later?’ I said no.”
Over the February break, as some students rehearsed feverishly and others worked with equal ardor on the set, Erik Keating and Rosa Cirelli had a break-through, coming up with their own design to safely solve the chandelier challenge.
Other challenges were met with equal aplomb. For example, because the singing parts are so demanding, the three lead roles each have understudies who will perform one night.
“I expected resentment,” Maycock said of actors’ sharing roles. “But they respect each other. They watch each other and borrow ideas.”
Maycock had stepped down from his role as director last year, and Cole Porter’s Anything Goes was ably directed by Olivia Mars. She had planned to continue directing The Guilderland Players but, said Maycock, due to budget cuts, she “wound up not having a job.”
The music director, he said, also had her job re-arranged and so Maycock went to Rae Jean Teeter, another Guilderland teacher and Players’ veteran, and asked if anyone was willing take on this year’s spring musical. Maycock was elated when Teeter, a music teacher, said, “I think I’m ready to come back.” He then returned to his classroom to find an e-mail from Rodgers and Hammerstein, saying The Phantom would be able to be performed by amateurs for the first time.
Maycock jumped in with both feet and said of working with Teeter, “We’re great together.”
They’ve been helped by Guilderland Players who have graduated.
Alexis Ziomek, who was in the first show Maycock directed this is his 16th musical is now a Guilderland music teacher. She is conducting the pit orchestra.
Christine Meglino, who graduated from Guilderland in 2005, is the show’s choreographer. Guilderland students who are ballet dancers perform in The Phantom of the Opera.
“Chilled and teary-eyed”
Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted the musical from a turn-of-the-last-century novel, Le Fantome de l’Opéra, written in serial form by Gaston Leroux for Le Gaulois.
The musical centers on an unusual love triangle. Christine, a Swedish orphan and chorus girl, was told by her father, a violinist, that an Angel of Music would help her. The Phantom, whom she sees as the Angel, has been coaching her through a mirror so she cannot see him. He lives in a ghostly subterranean realm beneath the opera house, having escaped from a traveling freak show. Born with a deformed face, he is a brilliant musician who haunts the opera house.
When a backdrop collapses, blamed on the Phantom, and the opera’s prima donna refuses to perform, Christine fills in for a triumphant debut. Raoul, a patron and member of royalty, courts her, causing the Phantom to become jealous. The Phantom kidnaps Christine as Raoul tries to tear her away.
Maycock sums up the play’s central dilemma this way: “Poor Christine is torn between the two this honorable man who loves her, or this spirit who appreciates her art and her passion.”
The veteran director said of this year’s production, “I’ve discovered sometimes the director’s job is to push and sometimes the director’s job is to move out of the way.” The latter happened often with this spring’s production. “I’ve gotten chilled and teary-eyed,” said Maycock.
Beyond the safety net
When Maycock asked Teeter, “Are you sure we have the voices for this?” he recalls, “She answered without hesitation yes.”
The soprano prima donna, Carlotta Guidicelli, and her counterpart, Ubaldo Piangi have to sing in operatic fashion as the musical features several shows within the show. Peyton Snyder, who has been in all four Guilderland musicals during her high-school years, plays Carlotta.
“She was the only one who could sing it…She has that voice,” said Maycock. “She’s a little thing, but she came in rip-roaring ready to nail that role.”
Bobby Ruggles, another familiar face on the Guilderland stage, plays Piangi. Likewise, Maycock said of Ruggles, “He’s the only guy who could sing that role. It’s very rare for high-school kids to have those real chops.”
The title role is played by Josh Palagyi with John Ciccarelli as his understudy. “Both have been consistently prepared,” said Maycock of the two seniors. It’s the first time in a lead role for Cicarelli, whom Maycock described as “a nice sweet kid.”
Palagyi, he said, “has a command of the stage you don’t often see in a high-school kid.”
Hannah Miele, a senior, plays Christine Daaé. “She’s been in every musical we’ve done,” said Maycock, although not in lead roles. “She had just wanted to be in the chorus, not in the spotlight. This is her time, now,” he said. “She’s excellent.”
Her understudy is Rachel Young, a junior, whom Maycock described as “experienced and very funny.” In last year’s Anything Goes, she had a broad comic role, playing a puppy-dog-carrying socialite. “Now, she’s a romantic ingénue,” said Maycock.
Paul Travers plays Raoul with Will Matthews as his understudy; both are seniors. “Paul is an outstanding trumpet player; he’s constantly auditioning for colleges,” said Maycock.
Travers played the romantic lead last year in Anything Goes and is used to broad, comic parts. “Now,” said Maycock, “he has to be charming and the rock that Christine relies on.”
Matthews played Pappy Yokum in Damn Yankees. “He’s a very smart guy,” said Maycock, who has him as a student in his Advanced Placement, college-level English class.
The director concluded of his actors, “All of these kids have great voices.” And, he said, they’ve all gone beyond the “safety net” of high-school acting.
Glitz and sparkle
The Phantom of the Opera should appeal to any age, says Maycock.
He concedes, though, that it may be “a little intense” for very young children. Although the Phantom “kills a few people,” Maycock points out that those murders don’t take place on stage. He adds, “My daughter is 11; she wouldn’t be scared by it.”
He goes on, “Some high-school kids might be reluctant to go because they think it’s opera. It’s sung but it’s a popular music spin on an old story that contains opera.”
Maycock concludes, “There’s enough glitz and color and sparkle to hold your attention.”
The Phantom of the Opera will be performed on the Guilderland High School stage at 8 School Road in Guilderland Center on Thursday, March 10; Friday, March 11; and Saturday, March 12, at 7 p.m.
The opening-night performance will have a sign-language interpreter.
Sunday, March 13, will feature a matinee performance at 2 p.m.
There are three prices for tickets: center seats cost $10 each; seats to the right and left of center cost $7; and seats on the far sides cost $5.