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He's Here: The Phantom of the Opera

The highly anticipated musical opened at Emmaus High School to a packed house and a standing ovation.

The show is magnificent.

The opening was spectacular.

And even a could-have-been-serious "wardrobe malfunction" was so seamlessly and professionally handled, it went all but unnoticed.

Over the months of pre-production, as the buzz grew, both the cast/crew and the community new that the Emmaus High School production of "Phantom of the Opera" was huge. Since the show has only recently been licensed for college and high school production, the EHS -- and its theater director Jill Kuebler -- are among the first to take it on.

And can we just say...Wow!!!

Those who were unable to purchase tickets before the show sold out are now on an intent search to find extras. The line of people waiting for ‘no show’ will call tickets was out the door.

But from the beginning, Kuebler knew it wouldn't be easy.

“It is a technically challenging show – the most we’ve ever done in that respect,” Kuebler stated.

Despite the enormous amount of time and technical effort required to produce such a show, Kuebler knew her cast and crew were up to the task. With a production such as “Phantom," the challenges are met by the rewards.

As with any organized production, there will be complications. Fortunately, only a few occurred throughout the production process, none of which were showstoppers.

Chris Kollar, EHS technical director, said he’s always amazed by what “these kids can do on the fly,” when discussing a mishap with the boat scene.

The female lead, Christine, played by senior Jen Pytlewski, leaned into the dramatic culmination of the show only to have the the back of her wedding dress open up to reveal her back. She gracefully held it together -- in every sense -- all the while continuing her breath-taking performance. Some may not have even noticed.

“I feel really good!” Pytlewski said. “There were things that obviously didn’t go perfectly, but I think we held it together. It was a great show overall. You just need to get through the first night, and then it’s easy sailing.”

This was Pytlewski’s first time playing a lead role, which might baffle some considering the quality and professionalism of her outstanding performance. She, along with the other leads in the cast, hit every note without missing a beat. Even on Broadway the high note she hits in "Think of Me," is sometimes recorded to assure its delivery, but Pytlewski hit it effortlessly.

“It was definitely a change for me to go from ensemble to this. I’m trying to relate to her [Christine] in terms of the emotional and vocal aspect of it, so that’s difficult.”

Pytlewski said she’s seriously considering pursing a theater career after this experience.

Ted Swanson, who played Raoul, Christine’s love, glowed with excitement after the show.

“I feel ecstatic. It’s so overwhelming how everything just came together so well and so beautifully. I love seeing the costumes, the set, the singing and the acting come together to make this thing that couldn’t be created by anything else.”

The Phantom, played by junior Wesly Clerge, was a highlight of the night. No one would know it from his performance, but last week he struggled with a vocal hemorrhage. His ability to perform without a hitch did not go unnoticed.

“To be the Phantom is such a great experience. There are no words to describe it. I honestly feel amazing every time I sing,” Clerge said.

“I think for an opening night and a show of such great stature for a high school, it was just amazing. Just performing it all the time and really just making sure the audience understands what you’re trying to portray through the character is really what my main goal is. I love doing that all the day, all the time. It’s just the greatest feeling in the world.”

Clerge wants to become a music teacher as a career, but acting is definitely in the back of his mind.

“I feel like since it’s such a big show and it’s the longest running show on Broadway, for a high school to do it is just amazing. It just takes the cake,” Clerge said.

Clerge commented that a fifth show was added, the Wednesday night show, for the first time since Kuebler’s been directing. “To have a sold out show really was the best experience,” Clerge added.

Julia Wagner, the spirited and colorful Carlotta, is a senior in real life. Her performance added energy and comic relief to the show.

“The audience was so much fun. I loved feeding off of their energy. It was such a good time!” Wagner said with her trademark smile.

The preparation is the toughest part of this sort of performance, Wagner said. “It’s the most work, but it’s the most fun.”

She also commented that the costume changes were really tough and “not pretty” to see behind the stage. But, she added, the girls she works with to help her do the changes aren’t even human in their ability. She’s so thankful to have their support.

One of the greatest aspects of putting so much effort into a show as great as “Phantom," Kuebler said her favorite part is seeing it all come together after many months of hard work. She also appreciates that the process alone helps the students learn about collaboration and discipline.

The Freddy Awards, an annual recognition of outstanding high school musical theatre in the Lehigh Valley held at the State Theatre in Easton, are not a major concern for Kuebler. She calls the Freddys the  “icing on the cake."

“The Freddys are wonderful in that they have increased people's awareness of high school theatre and give the kids a chance to perform again in a much larger venue.  My students are intrinsically motivated to produce the best possible show, and to give their best at each stage of the artistic process,” Kuebler said.

At the end of the performance, the entire audience was on their feet with a standing ovation. Some “Bravos!” could even be heard throughout the crowd. Most were in disbelief as they left the auditorium.

Bob and Kathy Griffiths of Emmaus were dumbfounded.

“It’s almost magical!” Kathy Griffiths said. “You almost can’t believe this is happening with high school children. It’s just amazing. I just really hope that they are recognized at the Freddys. I just can’t imagine it getting any better. They could be on Broadway. Not only that, but the orchestra is just amazing. You just can’t say enough about it.”

Her husband, Bob Griffiths, echoed her strong feelings.

“Goosebumps can appear with this show. From a senior citizen’s standpoint, it’s the best $10 you can spend compared to going to Broadway.”

The Griffiths became aware of the local talent after watching the Freddy Awards on television several years ago.

“The Freddys kind of made us aware of it. We couldn’t believe the talent that was out there. It’s just really been nice watching these children grow,” Griffiths said.

Bob Wolfe of Fogelsville said, “I’m blown away! I thought they were pantomiming for cryin’ out loud! I had tears in my eyes. They are GOOD!”

At the end of the week’s performances, Kuebler said she would most likely be filled with “joy, pride, and relief."

Students will celebrate with a cast and crew party after the closing show, and Kuebler "will spend some much-needed quality time with my husband and daughter," she said.

Every element of “Phantom” has been completed, just as the pieces of a puzzle come together, to produce an amazing thing of beauty.

Bill M. Clark March 24, 2011 at 06:00 PM
From the opening strong, throbbing and powerful notes of the orchestra I knew it would be a complete success. As an avid "Phantom Of The Opera" fan I nervously sat in the balcony, best seat in the house and waited for the opening. I have several copies of "The Phantom" including a silent screen version and one with Michael Crawford as The Phantom and the performance by the EHS cast was superb! Christine, played by Jennifer Pytlewski hit the high notes perfectly to match anything a Broadway stage play could offer. Usually opening night jitters cause a few problems among the performers but if there were any it did not show. Truly it was a grand evening worthy of anything Broadway could offer. To the entire cast- KUDOS !

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