(March 2, 2008)

Phantom Haunts Nyack

Peter D. Kramer/The Journal News

Max Reinhardsen has been working for months on his 19 minutes. That's how long the Nyack High School senior is on stage as the title character in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera," which opens Friday in a production that is momentous by any measure.

On opening night, Nyack becomes the first high school in the East and just the fourth amateur troupe ever to present Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical about the shadowy figure who haunts the Paris Opera.

"Phantom" has been at the Majestic Theater since Jan. 26, 1988 - years before any of Nyack's cast members were born. Friday's first performance coincides with Broadway's 8,365th.

Nyack will present "Phantom" six times - at 8 p.m. Friday; Saturday; March 14 and 15; and at 2 p.m. Sunday and March 15.

Sunday's matinee is a benefit for the school's Drama Angels parent group. Select seats will sell for $100 and include a "Taste of Nyack" luncheon with performances by Nyack alumni. (The regular ticket price - for all but the select seats this Sunday - is $10, $5 for students and free to seniors.)

R&H Theatricals, which handles Lloyd Webber's shows, chose six schools to present "Phantom," in a pilot program before releasing the rights to other amateurs.

Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio ran it in early November, then Carroll High School in Texas in late November and Elon University in North Carolina last month. Nyack is next and then Fairfield High School in Ohio in April and Capital High School in Charleston, W.Va., in May.

Charles Scatamacchia, vice president of R&H Theatricals, has been at all of the openings. In Nyack on Friday, he'll bring some of his staff and representatives from Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group.

Scatamacchia says Nyack's work on another Lloyd Webber show two years ago earned the school a spot in this pilot program.

"We consider ourselves fortunate to have seen their production of 'Cats,' which was rather extraordinary," he says.

Reinhardsen - who plays the phantom, opposite sophomore Edy Modica - is still in awe.

"Andrew Lloyd Webber himself in England and all his people picked four high schools and two colleges and we were one of them. It blows my mind every time I think about it," he says. "To think that we're setting the mold for this is great."

Director Joe Egan and his creative team have been working for six months, pulling together costumes (coordinated by Tom Beck and Neal Schleifer), lighting (designed by Andrew Gmoser), sets (by Egan, a set designer by trade), music (musical director Kurt Kelley) and choreography (Greg Baccarini, a longtime Egan collaborator who is also assistant director).

"We're getting the show free of rights," says Egan. "What they're asking back from us is any information that we derive in how to do it and how to transpose it, if need be, for the actors- how we figure out staging, how we figure out technical stuff - they just want that information back."

"Phantom of the Opera" is wall-to-wall music, to be played by a 24-piece orchestra - students, faculty and some professionals, including a harpist - and sung by kids who've never sung opera before.

Says musical director Kelley: "This isn't opera, really. It's Broadway's idea of opera, which is kind of like TV or movie's idea of opera. It's not what you'd see at the Met. It's what you'd see on TV, opera twice removed."

Part of the pilot process is adjusting the music to young voices.

"They don't want us to cut, but we're allowed to make modifications," Kelley says.

For Egan, every moment becomes a teachable moment.

"This is what we do," he says. "Initially, it was a big jolt, but now we're onto our schedule. Show up and we'll teach you what to do. Our crew kids come in and we show them what to do and they do it."

The community has stepped up, too. Merchants are donating food for the benefit and Rita Harvey, who made her Broadway debut as Christine and lives in Nyack, came to a rehearsal to chat about that experience and help the cast prepare.

Nyack film students have been shooting a "Phantom" documentary for a fundraiser in the fall.

Baccarini, the assistant director, says the honor presents a challenge.

"They definitely want us to make it our own," says Baccarini. "Obviously, you can't recreate everything you see on the Broadway stage, but we attempt to. We'll do as much spectacle as we can."

That includes the signature chandelier, rigged by Gmoser, who has created similar effects at Westchester Broadway Theatre for another version of the "Phantom" story.

When he first heard about the R&H offer, Baccarini remembers his immediate reaction: "There's no way."

"But Joe had the same reaction when we did 'Cats,'" he says. "He was like 'None of these kids dance,' and I said, 'Don't worry about that. I will get them to dance.'"

And Kelley will get them to sing.

And Egan will get them to act.

What they'll have - after months of meetings, auditions, rehearsals, set construction, costume fittings, technical rehearsals and the run of the show - is a memory that will last them a lifetime.

Which is a lot more than 19 minutes.