by Bruce Strand, Arts editor
With “The Phantom of the Opera” to present to a local audience, Elk River Community Theatre decided the only way to go was think big.
The Friday night premier at the Zabee Theatre by ERCT, in conjunction with Elk River High School, unveiled a big cast, big sets, big voices, big orchestra, and big budget for costumes (200 of them), leadership (four individuals with opera backgrounds) and other elements such as a boatload of dry ice for the many fog scenes.
There was a lot to pull together for the staff headed by director Eileen Bowersox but opening night was smooth and spectacular, and a good-sized crowd responded enthusiastically. There will be six more chances to see “Phantom,” including Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 6 p.m.. and next Thursday through Sunday (see schedule below).
It’s a gorgeous play visually with a huge variety of colorful costumes, vintage 1881 and 1905, and elaborate sets designed by ERCT veteran Dan Wold including the opera house, a river scene, and a graveyard scene. The gondola that the Phantom guides along the foggy Seine as he sings to Christine was borrowed from Minnetonka, which presented “Phantom” this spring. (“There’s a 10-year-old boy driving it,” chuckles Bowersox. “He’s having a ball.”)
While the cast is mostly local talent, the crucial Phantom role is played by Joshua Paul Smith, a recent Bethel graduate who hails from Albion, New York.
Smith, portraying the ugly musical genius who hides in the bowels of the opera house, has a radiant tenor voice that oozes passion in delivering his many songs, including the signature “Music of the Night,” as he tries to win the heart of Christine despite his masked, disfigured face.
The 22-year-old was discovered for ERCT by one of its actors, Michael Conrad, last year when they worked together in a play in White Bear Lake. “He called and told me, we’re still looking for the Phantom and I know you’d be perfect,” said Smith.
This was his first big role since his theatre debut in 10th grade when he played the beast in Beauty and the Beast. “Ever since that play, I have wanted to do Phantom,” said Smith. At Bethel, with a double major of Music and Biblical Theology, his main activity was singing. “I had tons of solos,” said Smith. ” With my double major I just had supporting roles (in plays) because I was too busy.”
Kristen Rokke, ERHS senior-to-be, plays Christine, the young chorus dancer elevated to the lead role of the Paris Opera House’s production of “Hannibal” when Carlotta, the house’s star performer, walks out in a huff after being struck down by a mysterious accident probably induced by the Phantom. Carlotta, who becomes Christine’s rival, is played by Emily Bowersox, the director’s daughter, a junior-to-be who attends a performance school in St. Paul. Both teens are blessed with strong and well-developed voices, and have no trouble with the vibrato parts that are staples of opera.
ERHS actor Jarret St. Jean plays Raoul, also smitten by Christine and the Phantom’s rival for her affections. Jared Schreifels plays Ubaldo, the actor who has the Hannibal part. Kristina Roe plays Madame Giry, the choreographer who secretly helps the Phantom. Brad Scarp and Isaac Quick portray the duo who purchase the opera house and have to grapple with the fact that it’s haunted, which they learned a bit too late.
Clearly, “Phantom” was a play coveted by many of the actors and director Bowersox, who said she thought she’d be “old or dead” before she got a chance to direct this Andrew Lloyd Weber classic that’s rarely made available for amateur theatre.
Schreifels, 22, Anoka-Ramsey student from Elk River with a rich tenor voice, said it was “absolutely” a great opportunity. “This play got me back into (performing). I took a break from it for a while.”
Ashley Falenschek, 19, a veteran of many plays at Spectrum HIgh School, Children’s Workshop and ERCT, is one of the dancers in several scenes. “I’ve always wanted to do ‘Phantom’ because it’s a great play for lots of dances,” said Falenschek, who attends American Music and Drama Academy in Los Angeles with the goal to “be a movie star.”
A 27-piece orchestra, most ever for an ERCT musical, is directed by Brian Budahn, director for Central Lutheran Church and veteran ERCT performer. The vocal director is Nate Herfindahl, an Elk River resident who has sung in many major operas. The choreographer is Carol Canama. Piano accompanist is Florian Keller. The producer is Conrad.
Monsieur Reyer: Theo Anderson … Carlotta Ciudicelli: Emily Bowersox (understudy: Katie Wolf … Madame Firmin: Elizabeth Brady … Princess: Alicia Brady … Little Lottie: Breanna Cassidy … Fireman: Nate Chesemore … Corpe de Ballet: Brenna Conrad … Monsieur Lefeve: Michael Conrad … Hairdresser: Kayla Danhouser …. Jeweler:
Kate Durushia …. Corpe de Ballet: Ashley Falenschek … Madame Giry Understudy: Lauren Fladland … Corpe de Ballet: Olivia Hanson … Passarino Confidant: Grace Heyne … Corpe de Ballet: Candace Hudson … Ensemble: Emily Jansen … Joseph Buquet, Slave Master: Alexander McCormick … Wardrobe Mistress: Katelyn Miller … Porter: Sarah Noding … Fop II: Heather Noding … Monsieur Firmin: Isaac Quick … Meg Giry: Sarah Rabe (understudy: Elizabeth Budahn) … Inkeeper’s Wife: Alyssa Rae … Corpe de Ballet: Molly Rinkenberger … Madame Giry: Kristina Roe (undestudy: Lauren Fladland) … Christine: Kristen Rokke (understudy: Emily Bowersox) … Monsieur Andre: Bradley Scarp … Ubaldo Piangi: Jarod Shreifels … Phantom: Josh Smith … Raoul: Jarret St. Jean … Corpe de Ballet: Isabella Steele … Don Attilo Auctioneer: Josh Wolf … Slave Master Marksman: Charlie Patch … Young Phantom: Tyler Mueller
Violin — Larry Blake, Jennifer Eggen, Mary Hanson, Diana Mills, Lydia Bynas, Alann Schugg
Viola — Danielle Bronschteyn, Dustin Mathias, Bonnie Melting
Cello — Amy Herfindahl, Danny Sweeney
Bass — Cheryl Nordquist
Flute/Piccolo — Katie Tatro
Clarinet — Rebecca Hampton
Oboe — Kelsey Marchetti
Bassoon — Jordan Plachecki
Trombone — Lance Bolson
Trumpet — Buffy Larson, Mike Roe
Horn — Lisa Lang, Jacquie Rognli
Keyboard — Lauren DeZelar, Gretchen Roe, Stephanie Roe
Percussion — Andrew Bronschteyn, Gennady Bronshteyn
The Phantom of the Opera
at Zabee Theatre
Friday, July 22, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 23, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 24, 6 p.m.
Thursday, July 28, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 29, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 30, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 31, 2 p.m.