There is a danger when praising one school’s musical production, that you will unfairly overlook very worthy efforts at other schools. That’s true. But the Wenatchee High School Choral Department’s production of “The Phantom of the Opera” is something else. It transcends the category. Don’t call it a high school musical. Don’t call it the school play, even if it is. You will shortchange it.
For this performance, subdue logic. Alter expectations. Musical theater always requires a massive suspension of disbelief. Normal people don’t go around singing to each other, for instance. I don’t think there is a massive, yet unknown lake under the streets of Paris where a deformed multidisciplinary genius has built himself an apartment and musical studio, complete with pipe organ. Yet, hear the voices and orchestra, see the set, the lighting, the mists and fog and candlelight, and for a few hours you can believe. You are drawn in. That’s what good theater does and this production succeeds, with a major bonus. What is astonishing, and most difficult to fathom, is that you are watching and listening to teenagers. Therein is the greatest treat of this or any well-performed school musical or dramatic production. I have said it many times — you get to see just what remarkable things young people can do. You can see how highly skilled and sophisticated they are, how they have jumped into the complex crafts of music and drama and found success. They have not yet mastered them, but they have a taste of how hard work and attention to detail lets you grab an audience and raise emotions to a new level.
“The Phantom of the Opera” continues tonight, Friday, and ends with two performances Saturday at the Wenatchee High School Auditorium. I am told there are some seats available, and tickets can be had at Pak-It-Rite, 126 N. Wenatchee Ave.
It’s another audacious production. A high school would have to expect much of its student performers to consider putting on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s opus, the longest running Broadway show ever, and perhaps the most successful theatrical effort in history. Based on a French novel that until Webber latched on had found its main success in horror films, it is not small or simple. Most scenes are on the stage of the Paris Opera, grandiose beyond our experience, or in the subterranean lair of the Phantom himself, dank and dark and spooky. The presentation is impressive before the show even begins. A wise investment in professional theatrical props and costumes adds considerably to the mood. Check out the costumes in the opening scenes as the cast performs a snippet from a 19th century grand opera gone way overboard. Watch for the famous flying chandelier. You can’t miss it.
But scenery and costumes are not the main draw. I count at least 75 students in the cast. This is not a review, so to single any out for praise would be unfair. Just to say, the lead performers project their beautiful voices over the audience, act convincingly, and handle their very difficult roles with apparent confidence. The ensemble is breathtaking. Just watch and listen at the opening of the second act, with the full cast on stage to sing “Masquerade.” The voices blend so beautifully, with such maturity, and the scene is so visually striking that it will be difficult to forget. Directors Paul Atwood and Matt Lodge live up to high standards. The orchestra directed by Dan Jackson, filled with some of the region’s best musicians, is of course superb.
Be thankful for schools brave enough to take on projects of this magnitude, invest in the effort, and set the highest standards. As we watch, the students are engaged in a life-changing experience. The audience, meanwhile, is grandly entertained. Believe it.
Tracy Warner’s column appears Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at email@example.com or 665-1163.