Getting iconic production to Arts and Culture Centre was a real coup by Opera on the Avalon, director says
It’s been long debated whether or not the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s is haunted, but from Nov. 7-10, there will be an undeniable ghostly presence in the theatre – “The Phantom of the Opera.”
Opera on the Avalon’s fall feature will bring a skilled crew of Newfoundland and Canadian talent to the stage to perform the Andrew Lloyd Webber masterpiece, based on the Gaston Leroux novel, “Le Fantome de l’Opera.”
Donna Fletcher is returning in the role of director for this show, having directed “Sound of Music” and “Into the Woods” in 2017.
“Sometime in between those two shows, Cheryl (Hickman, artistic director of Opera on the Avalon) and I were talking about something (the opera company) could look at doing, and I suggested ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ but it’s very hard to get the rights,” Fletcher explained.
“They don’t give them out to regional theatres or opera companies, but because Cheryl has magic in her fingers, she was able to convince them that a tour would probably never come to Newfoundland,” Fletcher said with a laugh.
“I got a text from Cheryl this summer … and she said, ‘Do you want to come to Newfoundland for ‘Phantom’?’”
Fletcher accepted the invitation, and as a performer who had previously auditioned for the role of the female lead, Christine, used songs from the show in other auditions, and coached one of the Broadway show cast members, she was exceptionally excited to work on this particular show.
Fletcher vividly recalled seeing the show in Toronto during her university days. She came directly to the performance after class, feeling underdressed sitting in the fifth row, next to opera enthusiasts in ball gowns.
Now in the director’s seat instead of the audience, Fletcher feels that this opportunity is her “way to finally touch ‘Phantom of the Opera.’”
“About two weeks later, I got a call from my agents saying I had booked ‘Phantom of the Opera’ in Newfoundland,” she said with a laugh. “I was like, when? Where?" — Teresa Tucci, who plays the role of Christine
When asked about casting this acclaimed show, Fletcher spoke volumes about the large cast and crew.
“There are people that I know, people that are new to me, and people that I’ve always wanted to work with,” she began.
“Our Phantom, Roger Honeywell, is someone I wanted to work with for a long time. And Teresa Tucci (in the role of Christine), I heard she was really fabulous, so she’s the one I really wanted to have.
“Of course, then we have all of your amazing Newfoundland talent. I’ve had a wonderful experience working with Kelly Ann Evans, Melanie Jardine, Mike Daley and Chris Dunn,” she said, naming a few of those involved.
“One of the original cast members from the Toronto show is in our show, John Fanning, playing the same role he played, like, 30 years ago.”
Fanning is reprising the role of Richard Firmin.
Jeffrey Huard, assistant conductor of the original 1988 Broadway cast, and musical director/conductor of the 1989 Toronto cast of “The Phantom of the Opera” will also be lending his talents.
“My friend Jeffrey Huard is doing musical direction on the show, and I really wanted Jeffrey involved. … He knew Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s great having him here, because he has touched the magic directly.”
For Teresa Tucci, this show is bringing a different kind of magic — her work with Opera on the Avalon is marking her first time in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as her first professional theatre contract outside of her undergraduate degree.
Hailing from Woodbridge, Ont., Tucci is a lifelong performer, with an interest in ballet, singing, musical theatre, opera and more.
She landed the Opera on the Avalon gig thanks to her sneaky but well-intentioned agents, who requested footage of Tucci singing “Phantom of the Opera” songs, but didn’t tell her why.
“About two weeks later, I got a call from my agents saying I had booked ‘Phantom of the Opera’ in Newfoundland,” she said with a laugh. “I was like, when? Where?
“Christine is my dream role, and to get to do it again with a professional company on my first contract, I can’t tell you how lucky I am,” Tucci said, noting that she had played the role in a university production of “The Phantom of the Opera.”
“The show is so different from when I did it in university. It’s so great to be exploring something that I thought I was familiar with, to be exploring it on a deeper level. And I love exploring Newfoundland. It’s all been so great,” Tucci said, her excitement audible throughout the conversation.
On top of the four evening performances, there will also be a matinee performance on Saturday, Nov. 9, featuring an American Sign Language interpreter.
“It’s about making art that everybody can see and everybody can enjoy,” Fletcher said of this addition. “In feeling the vibrations of the music, and then having an ASL interpreter there, it makes the whole thing wonderfully available. … This just means another audience gets to see this amazing, iconic piece.”