It’s not uncommon for a theatre to be considered “haunted”; actors, like athletes, can be notoriously superstitious. At present, however, the Wright State University theatre is occupied by a different sort of spectre, this one more spectacular than supernatural.
Wright State’s much-anticipated production of The Phantom of the Opera has taken over the Festival Playhouse. The show has already sold out its entire 15-performance run.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s gothic musical tells the story of a twisted musical genius and his dangerously obsessive love for Christine, the young soprano capable of giving life to his songs. It is based on the 1909 French novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux.
Winner of seven Tony Awards, The Phantom of the Opera is currently the longest-running show on Broadway. In 2004, it became a feature film starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum.
“Our students all know this show inside and out,” said W. Stuart McDowell, chair of the Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures. “They came to auditions with the songs already memorized.”
Those auditions were highly competitive, with one of the largest turnouts McDowell says he’s seen for a Wright State production.
“We have some wonderful actors in this department and we probably could have cast several people in each of the lead roles,” said McDowell. “We have some real ‘bench strength,’ as they would say in baseball.”
In the end, the coveted title role went to junior musical theatre major Casey Jordan. He was previously seen in Wright State’s productions of Hairspray, Little Women and Anything Goes.
“Phantom knocks anything else I’ve ever done out of the water completely,” said Jordan.
“I really had to take a step back before diving in because the Phantom is such an icon,” he said. “And the trouble with an icon is that you don’t want to play it just like everyone has played it before.”
The production also stars senior musical theatre majors Sam Helmstetter as Christine and Patrick Ross as Raoul.
Producing the musical is quite an undertaking, with more than 30 students in the cast and one of the largest orchestras the department has ever used. The set includes a massive chandelier that hangs over the audience and plays a pivotal role in the show’s first act.
Though many in the audience have already experienced The Phantom of the Opera, onstage or at the movies, McDowell promises a few surprises along the way.
“Some aspects of this production will be unlike any you’ve ever seen,” he said.
Performances run through May 27 in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center on Wright State University’s Dayton campus.