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T&T youths to bring Phantom to life

Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Cast members from the Phantom of the Opera, with President Anthony Carmona.

When youth and great theatre meet, the results can be impressive. The upcoming production of The Phantom of the Opera promises not only entertaining musical theatre, but a truly educational experience for the many T&T students who gave up their August vacations (and many weekends) to rehearse for this first full performance of the famous musical in Trinidad. It is totally a youth production, with all the key participants (actors and behind-the-scenes workers) aged from 14 to young adults. The local company Caribbean Theatre Productions, founded by Nicholas Gordon, is bringing the production here under licence from Cameron Mackintosh and The Really Useful Theatre Company Inc. 

If past youth musicals from the Caribbean Theatre Productions team—such as West Side Story and Les Miserables—are anything to go by, then musical fans are in for another treat. 
The idea for getting students involved in Broadway productions initially came from a Canadian programme which organised talented Canadian high school students to perform in productions. 
“So we decided to do a similar thing, with our schools, universities and colleges,” shares a member of the Caribbean Theatre Productions team: “We auditioned talented youth, and gave them an opportunity to perform. March 2011 was the first time we did this, with the show West Side Story, produced under our High School Broadway Show programme.” The show was produced in collaboration with the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism and was also supported by the Ministry of Education. 

Talented youth 
The Caribbean Theatre Productions team says they discovered “an abundance of talent, untapped, in T&T. They just needed the opportunity. Not only the actors, but all the backstage crew are students. Under the guidance of professionals in the field, many youths have discovered their talents. It’s been a springboard for some, with the productions receiving excellent reviews so far.” 
Musical directors for this year’s production of Phantom of the Opera are Victor Prescod and assistant Gregory Wong Fo Sue. Christopher Gordon is directing the graphic design, while Dr Helmer Hilwig is the dramatic director.  A Netherland-born doctor who came to T&T in 1983, and stayed, Hilwig is not only an avid dramatist, but also heads the Adult Emergency Department of the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, and is a board member at Queen’s Hall. 

This is his third time directing youth performances at shows by Caribbean Theatre Productions, and he is passionate about the experience: “The two previous productions (West Side Story in 2011 and Les Miserables in 2012) exposed some most exciting talent,” he commented in his director’s notes to the Phantom production:  Hilwig congratulated the masterminds behind Caribbean Theatre Productions, Elisabeth and Nicholas Gordon, who he said showed “fantastic initiative” as well as “tenacity and courage to take on the responsibility of the tricky and risky theatre business.  “Just to get the rights to perform the Phantom, one starts at TT$80,000, and that is only the beginning; because then the bills start piling up: sound, lights, sets, costumes, rent of the hall, advertisements, etc. Luckily, I only have responsibility for the direction,” he said. 

Money is still needed to continue the youth dramatic opportunities made possible by Caribbean Theatre Productions, say team members. While they are grateful for current support, they say more corporate support is needed to help fund expenses which include costumes, salaries for members of the live orchestra, and set design. For this production, for instance, the team rented a chandelier  from the Kentucky-based American firm ZFX Flying Effects Company, as well as sourcing some backdrops. These props will be returned after the production ends. 

Technical challenges 
Hilwig also commented on some of the technical challenges of Phantom: these  included “the ‘floating’ gondola, the ‘magical’ mirror, the appearance and disappearance of the Phantom out of or into ‘nowhere,’ and the many different locations, just to name a few.” As director, he said while being true to the script, he has coloured the performances to better interpret the characters. “I feel that such choices make the Phantom much more vulnerable, and Christine more mature and stronger than the often portrayed angry, grumpy, violent Phantom towards the overly innocent, fragile, scared Christine,” he said. “I also tried to accentuate the continuous triangular tension and fight between Raoul as the exponent of the ‘real’ world…the Phantom as the exponent of the ‘other,’ the ‘surreal’ world, ... and Christine often tangled up in her own world.” 

‘A wonderful journey’ 
“It was a wonderful three-month journey,” said Hilwig of this directing experience.  He was especially moved by the T&T students’ enthusiasm: “You are all such shining youths,” he said, clearly impressed with not only the students’ dedication, but also their living demonstration that there’s still a lot of hope and talent amongst young people.

DETAILS: The Phantom of the Opera is based on the French novel Le Fantome de l’ Opera by Gaston Leroux. The musical features music by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Charles Hart and additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. The T&T premiere of Phantom of the Opera is tomorrow at Queen’s Hall, under the patronage of the French Ambassador, Jacques Sturm. Proceeds from the opening show will support the Grant-A-Wish Foundation for terminally-ill children. Showtimes: October 31 at 8 pm; November 1 at 8 pm; and November 2 at 5 pm. The Cascade Festival Ballet group will be making a special guest appearance at the shows every night. Tickets: Elle Fashion, Gulf City Mall (652-3149); Party Plan-It, 31 Patna Street, St James (628-7526); LeJaby Hair Salon, 94 Eastern Main Road, St Augustine (645-7644); and Queen’s Hall Box Office.


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