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Lloyd Webber released performance rights this past summer.
“This is not a dumbed-down version, this is not a high school version, this is not a junior version,” GHHS vocal music director Shirley Lemon said. “This is note for note the same (Broadway) show. There is not one note cut or changed. It’s phenomenal.”
On a scale of 1-10 in degree of difficulty, Lemon scored “Phantom” a solid 10.
“This is my 33rd year of teaching and this is the hardest piece of music I’ve ever taught,” Lemon said of the iconic production. “The vocal ranges of the parts are so high and so intricate. Because it’s an opera, we have six or seven people singing at the same time, and they’re not singing anything the same. Just the intricacies of the rhythm and the parts are just astonishing.”
After Webber’s release of the 25-year-old show, Lemon and GHHS drama teacher Rita McLary visited Three Rivers and East Grand Rapids to watch those schools attempt “Phantom.”
“When we saw Three Rivers and East Grand Rapids, we said we can really do this,” Lemon said. “The minute we announced we were doing ‘Phantom,’ it was like a huge ripple effect going through the performing arts department. The kids were incredulous. They couldn’t believe we were going to attempt anything like this.”
To prepare for the complexity, Lemon and McLary held auditions last spring.
“We usually don’t audition until the first week of school,” Lemon explained. “And by golly, we worked all summer. Those kids came in at least once a week and worked all summer on their parts. Kids juggled jobs, Blue Lake (Fine Arts Camp) — they juggled all kinds of things this summer to make it happen. We couldn’t have done it unless they put in that time this summer.”
Chorus members and smaller roles auditioned the first week of school.
Cast members have been rehearsing four times a week, and volunteers have been sewing costumes and banging out the set on weekends.
GHHS senior Hugo Lawton, who plays the Phantom, said he never dreamed he’d land the lead in the longest-running show in Broadway history.
“Not ever in my life did I think this would happen, let alone in high school,” said Lawton, 17, who has seen the movie, but has not seen the show performed live.
“There’s a lot to live up to from people seeing the show on Broadway. It’s really difficult for all of us. For me personally, it’s difficult because the notes are so high — definitely higher than I’ve ever had to sing before. It really stretched my ability, as far as how well I can sing and my range.”
Lawton said the summer work was instrumental to the show’s success.
“I’ve been working with it for about six months, so I’ve gotten to know the ins and outs,” Lawton continued. “I’m feeling very confident about opening next week. It’s going to be great. In my opinion, it will be the best show ever seen at Grand Haven High School.”
GHHS senior Cassidy Elzinga, 17, plays diva Carlotta Giudicelli in the production.
“The music is very difficult,” she said. “I’m supposed to be an opera singer, so I have to make my voice like an opera singer. It’s difficult, but it’s fun. I’m nervous, but I’m really excited. I know we can all do it.”
McLary, the show’s director, said the cast and community support have been amazing.
“You look all across the board and it’s a huge show and undertaking,” said McLary, who has seen “Phantom” on Broadway and on tour at Western Michigan University. “You sit there and you watch it, and you never dream you’d actually work on a show like this.
“It’s really inspiring to see all the hard work,” she continued. “The kids have dug right in. They appreciate the chance to work on a show of this caliber and to be in something that they’re so proud of — and we’re so proud of them.”
Phantom: Hugo Lawton
Christine: Alexa Redick
Raoul: Colin Lamore
Madame Giry: Cassondra Takas
Meg Giry: Myrtle Lemon
Firmin: Ben Bailey
Andre: Jake Jager/Nate Owens
Carlotta Giudicelli: Cassidy Elzinga
Ubaldo Piangi: Clayton Zimmerman