The auditorium at Central Academy of Technology and Arts fills with operatic voices as the Union County Performance Ensemble rehearses “The Phantom of the Opera.”
Two men cast as phantoms stand below the stage of the house, waiting for a cue from a small orchestra of flutes, strings and a piano. Principal roles were double-cast and will alternate performing shows. Behind them sits the rest of the ensemble, a group about 70 students who represent 10 Union County high schools and are the area’s best student performers, said director Larry Robinson.
He chose the cast from about 200 teens who auditioned, he said. Add the student orchestra and crew, and about 100 students are at work. Robinson said he expects the show to sell out, and to be seen by thousands in the community. The show was cast in September, and participants have rehearsed about three times a week since November, Robinson said.
This is the 13th year the ensemble has put on a performance, said Robinson, and this is the first cast in the greater Charlotte area to receive rights to perform “The Phantom of the Opera.”
The show introduces audiences to a deformed composer who haunts the Paris Opera House. He is sheltered from the outside world until he begins tutoring and composing operas for Christine, a rising soprano star, with whom he eventually falls in love. As Christine grows famous, more men become interested in her, which angers the composer and causes him to violently lash out.
“It’s our goal to give the kids challenging material,” said Robinson. In past years, the ensemble has done “Beauty and the Beast,” “Les Miserables” and “Hairspray.”
“This year we have quite a number of kids performing for the first time in main roles,” he said.
Chuckie Hawes, a junior at Porter Ridge High, began in the chorus role of the opera before being called up to play Firmin, a manager of the opera house. This is Chuckie’s first time in a major role.
“I had never seen (‘The Phantom of the Opera’) before and I had never heard the music,” Chuckie said. “I had no prior training (for a principal role).”
To prepare for their upcoming principal roles, some cast members said they embrace method acting, while others tap into similarities with their characters.
Jacob Wade, a junior from Sun Valley High who will be playing the phantom, said he prepares for his role by tapping into similar emotions the phantom may have experienced, such as love, heartbreak, fury and obession.
Maddy Hardy, a junior at Marvin Ridge High, said the role of Carlotta is proving to be challenging. Carlotta is the lead soprano of the Paris Opera House.
“It’s hard to get in the mindset of Carlotta, because she is a huge diva,” Maddy said. “So I just give myself more me-time and focus on me before I perform.”
While Maddy must channel her inner diva, Parkwood High junior Tyler Hargett can more easily relate to the calm, collected character of Raoul, he said. Tyler’s character is Christine’s childhood friend and love interest.
“Out of the main leads, (Raoul) tries to keep things calm and work things out,” Tyler said. “He just tries to make everyone happy, and I like to think I do that.”
The cast spent days leading up to opening night sitting in rows of chairs on stage, going over lines and polishing pronunciation of words like “burning” or “masquerade,” so vowels were not so drawn out.
“Pitch is wrong.... Slow down here .... Good.... Basses, I need you to be louder,” coached the play’s musical director, Debbie Watwood, during rehearsal.
CATA junior Meghan Price said she finds herself practicing the play’s music even outside of rehearsal. “I now go to sleep listening to Phantom music,” she said. She plays Meg Giry, a ballet girl who is also Christine’s best friend.
Most of the cast’s lives are balancing acts. Between their singing parts, students work on homework and rehearse lines, since many of them are juggling the upcoming performance with athletics, AP courses, jobs and high school spring plays.
At the Jan. 31 rehearsal, Brennen Chisun, a CATA senior, opted to attend rehearsal instead of spring baseball practice.
“You have to practice a bunch and not just at rehearsal,” Brennen said. “This has to be what you do, and everybody has to be committed.”