The Phantom of the Opera comes to the Oxford Performing Arts Center for what some have labeled as the theatrical event of the summer. JSU’s Jacksonville Opera Theatre presents the story of the Phantom, Christine, and Raoul that we all know and love.
Director, Dr. Nathan Wight, says he can’t decide what he’s most excited about. “…the remote controlled boat or the chandelier – No, it has to be the level of talent of the performers,” he says. The cast and musicians are students at Jacksonville State University. “If you count cast, orchestra, and production crew, we are close to 150 people involved in the production, says Wight. However, counting donors and patrons, Wight says, “we are closer to 350 [people] who are helping to make this show a possibility.”
left to right: Jared Shiver, Firmin; Gavin Haynes, Andre; Leanna Fleming, Meg; Larue Bowman, Phantom; Madison Baldwin, Christine; David Wooten, Raoul; Noya Levy, Madam Giry; Macon Prickett, Piangi
The Phantom of the Opera, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is based on the 1910 novel “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra” by Gaston Leroux. The 2004 movie adaptation brought the story of the masked phantom mainstream, starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum. Set in the Paris Opera House in the 19th century, the Phantom falls in love with a young soprano, Christine. Taking her under his wing, the Phantom becomes Christine’s “angel of music,” grooming her for fame. When a handsome man from Christine’s past shows up, the Phantom falls into a jealous rage, terrorizing the opera company.
Madison Baldwin, playing the role of Christine, says performing is her whole life, “I live for the butterflies in my stomach right before the curtain comes up, and having the thrill of the lights and hundreds of eyes on you. There is nothing like it,” she explains. Baldwin, a JSU senior majoring in music education with a concentration in voice, says of Christine, “I love playing a character that goes through such a beautiful journey.” With scores including ‘Think of Me,’ ‘Angel of Music,’ ‘Music of the Night,’ ‘All I Ask of You,’ and more, Baldwin says she loves “singing [Christine’s] stunning songs. I find something new in them everyday.”
Baldwin expects the show to bring her to tears, “The moment the chandelier lights up and flies into the air and the orchestra plays the iconic ‘Phantom of the Opera’ overture is going to be breathtaking. I have chills just thinking about it. I know I am going to cry every night.”
Aside from the chandelier, which is rented, Wight says “The scenery has been totally produced by JSU students, faculty, and volunteers.” He admits that directing such a widely-known and recognized production brings some challenges, “The audience comes with certain expectations. Some of these we can fulfill, but some are nearly impossible, so we come up with creative solutions.” Wight says the show coming to the OPAC is the exact same storyline as the current broadway version.
Playing Piangi is JSU senior Macon Prickett. The Theatre/Communications major says he has loved The Phantom of the Opera for over half of his life. “I have been in love with The Phantom of the Opera since I was seven years old,” explains Macon. “It will forever be the show that introduced me to musical theatre.”
Prickett says Piangi has always been one of his favorite characters due to his over-the-top and outrageous nature, “I’ve been dreaming of playing Piangi for years and can’t believe I finally have this opportunity.” The role is also offering Prickett new opportunities to explore his voice, “I’ve had years of classical training, but this role is one of the most vocally challenging I have ever had to learn.”
Prickett notes how the storyline focuses on the love triangle among Christine, the Phantom, and Raoul, but says “I also love how the show expresses how powerful music can be.” He continues saying, “Music can inspire and entertain us, but also bring us together and unite us.”
David Wooten, playing the role of Raoul, says this is the first serious character he has ever played. “I thoroughly enjoy the challenge,” says Wooten. “I never expected this character to have so much depth behind him.” Wooten, a vocal music education major, comments on the passion between his character, Christine, and the Phantom saying, “The raw emotion felt during the last scene of the show has to be one of my fondest moments of the production.”
“I discover a new favorite moment of the show at each rehearsal,” says Prickett. He and Baldwin both comment on the strength of Christine and her journey throughout the show. “Christine starts the show as a very young, naive ballet dancer with little life experience,” says Baldwin, “and by the end of the show, [she] transforms into a woman who has experienced love, passion, pain, and sorrow.” Prickett agrees saying he loves the intricacy of Christine’s character, “I love how we watch her grow up and learn to make difficult choices. She is so strong and determined, though she does at times let the seduction and madness get to her, she remains courageous until the very end.”
Wight says the level of talent in this production is exceptional, ”From the Phantom to the Chorus, I couldn’t be more proud of these students.” He says “This is a production that only comes along once in a lifetime. We are very fortunate to have all the talent that we have to make this show happen.”
The Phantom of the Opera runs June 9th – 18th at the Oxford Performing Arts Center, 100 Choccolocco St, Oxford. Evening performances begin at 7:30 and matinee performances at 2:30.