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(Posted July 1)
Canadian high school premiere of 'Phantom' out of this world
By Fred Sherwin
Orleans Online

Ryan Binsell and Sarah Blouin star in the St. Peter Musical Theatre production of Phantom of the Opera . Fred Sherwin/Photo

The St. Peter Musical Theatre company have always put on top notch productions. Some of the performances that come to mind include last year's Little Shop of Horrors, Grease, Beauty and the Beast, and of course, Les Misérables which will always stand out as one of the best high school musical productions I've ever seen.

This year's production of Andre Lloyd Webber's iconic Phantom of the Opera is on the same level of "Les Miz", if not higher. It's just that good.

On June 3, the company which licenses shows by Webber began taking applications from high schools and colleges to put on their own productions of the famous musical. St. Peter High School drama department head Bernard Leger made sure St. Peter was one of the first high schools to submit an application.

When word came that their application had been approved, Leger began holding rehearsals for the ambitious project.

After selecting his cast members, he began holding rehearsals under a veil of secrecy. Members of the cast refrained from discussing the production with their friends and event the school staff was kept relatively in the dark. All of which resulted in a heightened level of anticipation when the curtain was raised on the first of four shows Wednesday night.

After a rough opening night, both the cast and orchestra regrouped for last night's performance which was unbelievable.

Leger outdid himself with the set design and the 20-piece orchestra was point on. In fact, it was the best orchestral performance for a St. Peter production on any other high school musical production that I have ever heard.

As for the performance on stage, the audio started out a little sketchy, but it was addressed in very short order in time for the first scene of Act 1 in which La Carlotta is singing her magnificent aria in a scene of "Hannibal".

In the St. Peter production, La Carlotta is played by Allison O'Brien who's operatic training made her the perfect choice for the prima donna. Her performance set the bar extremely high for the rest of the production.

As the cast rehearses for the evening performance, a backdrop falls on to the ground nearly hitting La Carlotta. As whispers of "The Phantom, he's here," circulate through the chorus, the prima donna storms off the stage, refusing to perform any longer.

The opera's new owners decide to replace her with a Swedish chorus girl named Christine Daäé at the suggestion of Madame Giry, the ballet mistress.

Daäé is played by Sarah Blouin who, a year ago, failed to make the final cut in auditions for "Little Shop of Horrors".

Her only previous experience was as a chorus member in "Beauty and the Beast" in 2009.

Despite her the brevity of her resume, Blouin somehow manages to pull off one of the most memorable performances on the St. Peter cafetorium stage since Samantha Mouchet blew everyone away in "Les Miz".

The Grade 12 student's solo performance of "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" in the second half of the play is CAPPIE worthy, as is the entire production.

After her triumphant debut, Christine admits to best friend Meg that she has a mysterious teacher who she refers to as an invisible "Angel of Music".

An childhood friend named Raoul, recognizes Christine from the audience and meets her afterwards in her dressing room. The two fall in love and become engaged, which angers a jealous Phantom.

In the second half of the play, the Phantom demands that the theatre owners produce and opera which he has especially written for Christine.

During the opening night, the Phantom kills the male lead and replaces him on stage. As the opera draws to a close, Christine realizes she has been singing with the Phantom and tears off his mask.

In the chaos that follows, the Phantom grabs Christine and carries her off to the catacombs below the theatre.

Raoul follows in hot pursuit, but is captured and Christine has to decide between staying with the Phantom forever and allowing Raoul to go free or letting him die in exchange for her own freedom.

The Phantom is played by St. Peter Musical Theatre veteran Ryan Binsell, who played Seymour in last year's production of "Little Shop of Horrors", while Raoul is played by first-timer Christopher Baxter.

It's not easy performing in a musical with such gifted female co-stars, but Binsell and Baxter do an excellent job. The two young men got better as the show went on and their confidence grew with each song.

Binsell's performance of "The Music of the Night" in Act 1 was exceptional, as was his duet with Blouin in the second act.

Baxter's duet with Blouin at the end of Act 1 entitled "All I Ask of You" was also a highlight as was the ensemble number "Down Once More" which brought the production to a triumphant close.

Other performances that stood out for me include Peter Shaw and Michael Moreau as Firmin and André; Brandon Thomas as Piangi and Andrea Constantine as Meg Giry. The remainder of the principle cast includes Claudia Carino as Madame Giry, Brandon Carenas as Monsieur Reyer and Alex Pankerton as Monsieur Lefebrve.

The chorus is made up of mostly Grade 10 students and includes Rebecca Atkinson, Ryan Collins. Alyssa Milobar, Gregory Moreau, Jeremy Morganty, Brooke Morrice, Katie Radway, Drew Plummer, Tori Simpson, Nicole Brake, Katelyn Boros, Meagan Schroeder, Brandon Swann, Sierra Holder, Bridget Gilhooly, Emma Cowie, Lydia Brownrigg and Candace Della-Ricca.

The orchestra is led by Lisa McLean. Carla Janelle is the producer. And Monique Simonot assisted Leger as the student director.

"The Phantom of the Opera" continues tonight and tomorrow night with performances at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 per person and are available at the door.

The St. Peter Musical Theatre Company is the first high school musical theatre group to perform Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera in Canada. Fred Sherwin/Photo


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