Expectation in Cashel Community School had been gathering momentum in recent weeks as the date for the staging of the schools latest musical grew ever closer. There was the occasional whispering that perhaps the production team had gone a bridge to far in deciding to stage this most ambitious of West End musicals.
The production was only the 2nd time that the Phantom would be performed by a school company in the Republic. From the moment that impressive chandelier rose to the ceiling, to the thunderous chords of the world-famous overture it was clear to all present we were not sitting in on a school performance, this was a professional production to rival the best.
The splendour of the Opera Populaire was brought to mind by the grandeur of art teacher Andrew Fox’s set, which was constructed and engineered by a production team of teachers and pupils from the woodwork and metalwork departments. No effort was spared to make the set the grandest ever seen in Cashel and one surely to rival Lloyd Webber’s original production. The props list must have been endless, from musical monkeys to gravestones, a rowing boat to the very effectual candelabras (which had a familiar look) and of course, the chandelier, which plummeted down towards the end of act one causing hearts to flutter. The costumes were a work of art in themselves, praise must go to home economics teachers Tracey Gibson and Marie White and their team who must have spent an eternity making and locating all manner of vintage Parisian haute-couture. The make-up team skillfully transformed adolescents into adults, as well as creating the disfigurement of the phantom himself. The back scene projection which was a new feature this year greatly enhanced the spectacle, combined with the innovative lighting designs from Star Systems Thurles added sparks to this most electric of performances.
Musical director and producer John Murray, assisted by Nicola Shiels and Miriam Ball, (Choreography) put together something truly incredible. His cast communicated storytelling at its best, as the audience were drawn into the intense romantic plot of Christine, the rising opera star, (Maia Purdue/Johanna Murray) her suitor, Raoul, (Sean Maher) and the phantom himself (Thomas Grogan). Thomas, gave a commanding performance in the lead role, his superb acting ability combined with a voice which now possesses a musical register which belies his seventeen years, brought the house down with his haunting rendition of ‘The Music of the Night’. Maia Purdue/Johanna Murray, played the role of Christine on alternate nights and although they have totally different voices and mannerisms enthralled the audiences with their glorious singing and ability to portray Christine’s torment. Sean Maher, has progressed into the leading roles league with his mature rendition of Raoul, he also possesses a very fine voice which was evident in his performance of ‘All I Ask of You’. Nel Trehy, (Madam Giry) played the part of the steely-eyed ballet mistress wonderfully well even adapting a slightly arthritic gait which made her even more domineering, in total contrast to her submissive daughter Meg, (Serena O’Dwyer). Johanna Murray, on the nights she wasn’t playing the lead role of Christine slotted brilliantly into the role of the Italian prima donna Carlotta with great aplomb. In what is essentially a tragedy the phantom does have it’s lighter moments, most of these come courtesy of Firman,(Liam Quigley) Andre, (Niall Treacy) Reyer, (Christopher Bowes) Piangi (Jerry O’Rourke).
The mark of a musical’s success rests with the support and attention of its chorus. John Murray should be very proud of the sixty odd chorus line members whose tight focus and co-ordination in their expressive dancing (choreographed by Miriam Ball), singing and acting, brought a presence to the stage which complemented the talent of the leading characters. The team spirit of the cast shone through, a mark of total professionalism.
Much of the show’s magic originated from ‘the music of the night’ the sixteen strong orchestra,( it sounded as if there was more) perched high up in the rafters, they were magnificent. How Maestro Murray, conducted the orchestra and with his back to the players directed their on stage movements remains a mystery. This production supplied a spellbinding sequence of unforgettable moments from the lovers’ duets to the masquerade. The standing ovations during and at the end of the show were wholly justified.