The St. Michaels University School performing arts department puts on at least one musical theatre production per year, usually during Victoria Fringe Festival time, and I’ve been fortunate enough to watch more than a few recognizable faces grow up before my eyes. While I have to admit I don’t follow all this school’s productions (this film and nerd enthusiast’s life gets hectic at times), but after seeing their version of Phantom the Opera at McPherson Theatre last weekend only further enhances my appreciation in the shows they love to put on. In the past, they have done West Side Story, Pirates of Penzance and Jesus Christ Superstar. These are shows I could have gone to see, but I’m still holding out for Grease and Hairspray.
Theatre director Ian Collett revealed to the Two Hungry Blokes early on last year about what was next after their Fringe show, Band Geeks. I enjoy Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s works and have only watched and listened to his shows through recordings. Being island bound does not prevent me from going to the big shows in Seattle, but it does get expensive. I really have to pick and choose when I hear about a must see show off the island but for the Phantom, he’s one who must not slip away!
Musicals have to be experienced with a live orchestra whenever possible. To hear the roar of the instruments can only bring pleasure. Of the shows I missed over the years because of that other life, I need to start paying attention to all the local productions happening around town more. I can’t depend on going to Vancouver or Seattle for my high culture. This local city version was very slick. I loved how certain numbers (namely “Angel of Music” and “Little Lotte … / The Mirror”) were blocked and lit. In theatre, having a skilled lighting director makes for all the difference in creating that illusion of being far away or intimately close. The orchestra was great and even imbued that supernatural essence needed to give this show the spookiness it deserves.
This stage version alternates the key roles with multiple performers (The Phantom was played by Ajay Parikh-Friese and Ethan Otto). To say who is better is not fair to either young actor (Emma Heusser in the show I was at, or Victoria Schickhoff) who has to do her best Sarah Brightman when playing Christine Daaé, the opera singer who gets dogged by the mysterious phantom.
The love of the material is clearly evident with the main performers, and the production values are very high. It’s comparable to a big city production without being too lavish. A lot of the illusion is conveyed through the back projection screen and in this show, it helped give the space great sense of phantasmagorical depth. When considering this theatre (The McPherson Playhouse) is haunted too, I could not help but grin.
This school is one of Victoria BCs best training grounds to nurture the next great talents. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what they’ll produce for this year’s Fringe. To top Phantom, to select the next Broadway show is going to be a tough call. In a program that has at least 30 students, to find the right musical needs to be selected with care. Perhaps The Sound of Music is next.