Students of Prince of Wales Collegiate in St. John’s are about to be visited by a ghost. A phantom, in fact. Renowned Canadian tenor Robert Pilon, best known for playing the role of Phantom in the Toronto production of “The Phantom of the Opera” and Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables,” is in town today, and will be meeting with the students involved in a local Phantom production.
PWC is presenting “The Phantom of the Opera,” starring Simon Marshall, 18, and Krista Barbour, 16, at Holy Heart Theatre until Saturday.
Barbour is a singer who’s performed in “Grease” and other local musicals; Marshall, who has a background in music and improv, is making his musical theatre debut.
“What cooler role is there than ‘Phantom’? You get to wear prosthetics and a black cape,” Marshall said of his reasons for auditioning for the show.
Jordan Flynn, drama teacher at PWC and the show’s theatrical director, said both students were natural fits for their roles.
“Krista’s got the most amazing voice I’ve ever heard — I told the others, we can pick any musical with any female lead and we’ve got the voice already,” Flynn said. “Simon is a natural talent. See that organ on stage? The music is coming from the orchestra but only for the fact that he can’t see the conductor, he could play it himself.
“Every person we’ve given a singing role to is incredible,” Flynn continued. “This has been a really strong group of kids to work with. It’s really amazing to see what kids can achieve with hard work and dedication.”
There’s nothing high school about the set for the production — besides the organ, the stage boasts a backdrop of wooden staircases, painted by artistic director Pam Pike, who also made a gigantic chandelier. The set was built in a garage, taken apart and rebuilt in the school library to be painted, taken down and put back together in the gym for rehearsals, then disassembled a final time and rebuilt on the Holy Heart stage.
Deformed since birth, the Phantom is a musical genius who lives, hidden away, underneath the Paris Opera House. He falls in love with a young chorus girl, Christine, and privately tutors her to become the theatre’s leading lady. Christine eventually falls in love with another man and Phantom, insane with jealousy, kidnaps her.
Pilon earned the role of Phantom in the Toronto production of “The Phantom of the Opera” after auditioning for part in a completely different musical.
“I was coming from the show ‘Les Mis,’ where I played the role of Jean Valjean for only six months,” Pilon told The Telegram. “That’s where Garth Drabinsky heard about me and had me flown in to audition. I auditioned for ‘Showboat’ and by the end of the audition, they had me singing for the role of Phantom and I left there with the role.”
Pilon played Phantom for two-and-a-half years. While he enjoyed it, it was a rather solitary role, he explained, since although there’s a full cast, Phantom is mainly only ever on stage with Christine.
There were other challenges, too.
“This is a dark role in the respect that Phantom is a murderer, conniver, tortured soul of love and you don’t want to be doing that for a long period of time. You wouldn’t want to be doing it for five years, it would be difficult,” Pilon said. “The other thing is the physical side to it. In the theatre, we were climbing behind the scenes or dragging ourselves across the floor and signing, going through trap doors, coming down stairs wearing heels and dressed up in the masquerade outfits, and trying not to hit the trap doors with the candles. Not only that, but you’re wearing a mask and have limited sight. There’s a lot of height, hiding, climbing and balancing.”
Pilon’s visit with the students was kept a surprise until today, organized by the Rotary Club of St. John’s Northwest while Pilon is coincidentally in town for unrelated events (see below).
Flynn was looking forward to introducing him to the young actors.
“I’m really excited to see the students’ reactions when they get a chance to meet him,” he said. “They’ve worked so hard. It’s a nice bit of icing on the cake.”
Tickets for PWC’s production of “The Phantom of the Opera,” with musical director Terrence Howlett, are $25 ($20 for students and seniors) and are on sale now at the Holy Heart box office, by calling 579-4424 or online at www.holyhearttheatre.com.