By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — There are challenging plays, and then there is the play that the Pope John Players will be presenting over the next three days.
For their spring production, the Pope John Players will present, “The Phantom of the Opera,” Broadway’s longest-running musical, tonight at 7, Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m., at Pope John XXIII Regional High School. Tickets are $10 at the door.
“This really is the ‘show of shows,’” Pope John senior Chase Nugnes said. “As high school students, it’s really an amazing experience to be able to put on such a well-renowned show and try to execute all the complex moving parts that are within it, such as the scenes, the tech, the lights, the music and other things that have made this production one of the best of all time.”
“I’ve always thought this show was the big kahuna of Broadway plays,” Pope John senior Katie Yarussi said. “This is a great opportunity for us to be able to perform a show that everyone knows.”
The Pope John Players are putting on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version of “The Phantom of the Opera,” which was released in 1986 in London’s West End and hit Broadway in 1988 at the Majestic Theatre. Based on the French novel by Gaston Leroux, the musical centers around a beautiful soprano, Christine Daaé, who becomes the obsession of a mysterious, disfigured musical genius, the Phantom, living beneath the Paris Opéra House. The musical won seven Tony Awards in 1988, including the award for best musical.
Nugnes and Yarussi play the iconic roles of the Phantom and Christine Daaé. Nugnes and Yarussi admitted that portraying these respective lead roles will be incredibly hard to duplicate on stage, but they have embraced the challenge.
“It’s a role that everyone knows,” Nugnes said. “To be that character, to put on his mask, and to put on the cloak, is amazing. However, it is definitely hard because there is a long lineage of actors of who have played this role and you just want to be able to perform it just as well as they have.”
“It’s a role that I love, but it has been a challenge,” Yarussi said. “I’ve been singing the songs that my character sings since I was a little girl, but I didn’t realize all of the things that go into her role. You never know how much someone has to go through in a role until you do it yourself.”
In addition, junior Brendan Karolchyk plays the role of Raoul de Chagny, who is a childhood friend of Daaé and battles the Phantom for her love, and seniors Hayley Gagnon and Jacob Huhn play the Italian duo of Carlotta Giudicelli and Ubaldo Piangi, who are major singers for the Paris Opéra House.
Even these students, along other members of the Pope John Players, were surprised at how hard some of their roles are.
“When I got Carlotta, I fell in love with her character, but there is a lot of complexity to what she has to sing and you have to keep up her high energy and thick Italian accent while performing,” Gagnon said. “It took months for me to get this character down and sing opera.”
“It’s my first year with the group and my first big role, so it’s been very difficult playing the role of an Italian singer like Ubaldo, “ Huhn said. “However, it is a great experience for me to learn how to become someone else when you are on stage.”
“’The Phantom of the Opera’ has a dark tone to it, so me being a stage hand is tough, “ said senior Zachary Cuttito. “We’re supposed to be that comedic presence for the show. But, we’re doing our best and we’re having fun together.”
Pope John Players director Jacquelyn Burt is proud of her students for tackling this formidable show.
"This show is a challenge because it is not your typical high school show," Burt said. "Thankfully, our cast members are up to the challenge. ‘Phantom' is a show where audiences come expecting to see the intensity and emotion of their favorite songs with the precision of their favorite set piece. It is a daunting combination but I believed in my heart that the Pope John Players will never disappoint."
Part of this combination is the complex sets, which took months of planning and building. One of biggest challenges was the play’s famous chandelier, which has been designed by Pope John science teacher Frank Setlock.
“A big reason we are able to put on a show like this is because of our tech crew,” Gagnon said. “Our teachers and students spent many days working on the chandelier, the gondola, the statues, the lights and everything that makes this show work. We wouldn’t be in this position without them.”
Now that they are a day away from putting on this famous opera, the Pope John Players are confident their performance will prove to be one of the best they have ever done.
“I think this show pushes a lot of limits that high schools set for themselves, but this is not out of our reach,” Yarussi said. “I feel we are going to do a great job.”