The SMUS production of The Phantom of the Opera premiered on Thursday, February 25. The opening night cast starred Ajay Parikh-Friese as the infamous Phantom, Emma Heusser as the sweet ballet girl Christine Daaé, and Sid Boegman as the Vicomte de Chagny, Raoul.
The music was captivating. From the familiar brash Phantom entrance theme to the soft melodies of “Music of the Night” and “Angel of Music,” the tunes were diverse and left a lasting impression. Although parts of scenes were cut short due to practicality, the musical flowed smoothly from one scene to the next without mishap.
The Phantom of the Opera stands out among musicals due to the fact that many of its songs follow the traditional grand opera style, instead of what is generally accepted as musical theatre. The style makes the musical especially hard to perform at a high school level, where the students are less accustomed to singing in such a high range. Nevertheless, the singers did a marvelous job, and provided a truly entertaining performance.
In regards to characters, the Phantom surprised us all. Ajay played his character with a different kind of energy than the classic Broadway version. As Ajay’s Phantom is not as large or as old as the first generation Phantom, Ajay, as SMUS’s Phantom, was more agile and moved in bursts of quick, eccentric energy. Though less physically intimidating than Broadway’s original Phantom, Michael Crawford, the new, sassier Phantom quickly demonstrated to the audience just how much of a madman he is. Still, the musical was not without its tender moments for the Phantom, such as when he laid his cloak over the sleeping Christine. With a clear and controlled tenor voice, Ajay sang as if he truly owned the theatre.
One’s view on Sid’s Raoul changes as the show progresses. Despite Raoul’s better morals, the musical drives the audience to sympathize with the Phantom, and thus we come to view Raoul as an obstacle to true love. Sid embodied the character wonderfully, and brought the gentle and caring Vicomte de Chagny to life on stage as he tries to rescue his fiancée from the clutches of the Opera Ghost.
Emma also gave a fantastic performance. Her Christine Daaé was sweet and innocent. Throughout much of the play, Christine is entranced by the Phantom, unsure of whether she truly loves or fears him. Emma brought her character to overcome that fear, and showed compassion to the Phantom rather than pity. In the world-famous Broadway and London production, Christine is known to have a beautiful soprano voice, and Emma nailed her sky-high melodies.
Aesthetics and costumes passed the wow test with flying colours. The famed “Masquerade” scene put cast members in elaborate masks and costumes, including Christian Okiring’s half-suit, half-dress getup, while the grand opera “Il Muto” showcased pre-Revolutionary 18th century French makeup. For the rest of the show, actors wore classic vintage attire, though “Hannibal” required the cast to step into colourful, but historically inaccurate, costumes. The animated backdrop compensated nicely for the lack of physical set objects, and the dry ice smoke added an extra layer of depth to the stage.
Overall, the show was nothing short of phenomenal. It was the condensation of months of hard work for cast members, pit orchestra musicians, tech crews, set crafters and directing teachers alike. The SMUS production of The Phantom of the Opera opened on a bright note, and for those of you who have yet to see it, there are two more shows – a matinee Saturday afternoon and the final performance Saturday night.
Review by Jacki Zhang and Jiawen Chen
(photos by Kent Leahy-Trill and Kyle Slavin)