Cherry Hill West Theater faces biggest challenge yet with ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

This year’s Cherry Hill West spring musical will be performed March 16 to March 18 and March 23 and 24 at the Cherry Hill West new auditorium.

The cast of Cherry Hill High School West’s spring musical, “Phantom of the Opera,” rehearses the song “Masquerade” from the show during rehearsal on Thursday night.

Students in Cherry Hill High School West’s theater department haven’t faced a challenge quite like the one they are facing this spring.

Cherry Hill West’s spring musical is “The Phantom of the Opera,” the longest-running Broadway musical in history, according to Playbill. Cherry Hill West is believed to be the second high school in South Jersey to perform the show after Millville High School, and members of the cast agree it is easily the hardest show they’ve ever done.

“The other hardest musical that we had before this was ‘Mary Poppins,’ the other double cast show my freshman year,” said senior Tomas Saed, who is one of two actors playing the lead role of Phantom in the show. “This is in a completely different league.”

“The Phantom of the Opera” revolves around a mysterious character simply known as Phantom who lives underneath the Paris Opera Hall. Phantom becomes enamored with a budding young singer named Christine, whom he gives lessons to and tries to force the opera house management to give lead roles to. When Christine falls in love and become engaged to a man named Raoul, Phantom causes chaos and tries to find ways to escape with Christine and marry her.

For the first time since 2015, Cherry Hill West theater director Carolyn Messias decided to have two casts, purple and white, for this year’s show. A big factor behind that decision was the level of difficulty the show presents vocally for the actors.

“We’re lucky to do it and we actually have the talent to do it and to double cast,” Messias said.

Griffin Rice, the second actor performing as Phantom, is acting in the spring musical for the first time as a senior after playing in the pit orchestra in past years. He feels the most challenging part of the show is adapting his voice to the Phantom’s songs.

“For Tomas, I think it’s a bit easier because he’s a tenor,” Rice said. “I’m not. This part can be sung by an actual baritone, which I am, but it’s a lot tougher.”

Left: Nicole Manalo, playing the role of Carlotta Giudicelli in the purple cast of Cherry Hill High School West’s spring musical, “Phantom of the Opera,” and Matt Valle, playing the role of Ubaldo Piangi, perform a song during rehearsal. Right: Drew Dunne, playing the role of Raoul in the white cast of Cherry Hill High School West’s spring musical, “Phantom of the Opera,” rehearses a song.

Other cast members expressed similar feelings, saying how the sometimes erratic music and sudden chord changes require them to concentrate and hit a very wide range of notes.

“There’s no true melody that goes with any specific pattern, which is really confusing when you’re trying to sing your part against all the different chord and key changes,” said Drew Dunne, one of the two actors playing Raoul in the show. “The vocal range of the characters, or at least my character, is very challenging because it does range from low to high.”

“The range for some of the characters, they go from very high ends to very low ends,” said Matt Valle, playing Ubaldo Piangi in the show. “It’s really taxing on your voice.”

Megan Nutt, performing as Meg Giry, said the only way to get ready for this show is to constantly practice, both in rehearsal and at home.

“It’s a lot of researching your character, and vocally, it’s just listening and singing it over and over again,” she said.

There are other challenges the cast must face. Shannon Scott, the other actor playing Meg Giry, has to dance ballet in the show, something she hasn’t done before.

“I had some of the girls record it for me,” she said. “I worked on it every day.”

Gina Cosenza, performing as Madame Giry, said the show’s length and numerous difficult songs are mentally difficult for the actors.

“It’s challenging on your brain because you act as that person for so long,” she said.

Despite the challenges, everyone is excited to take the stage in March. The cast members want to prove they are capable of putting on one of the best high school shows in the region.

“There’s a lot of doubters out there when you say Cherry Hill West is doing ‘Phantom of the Opera,’” Cosenza said. “But we’re up for it. We’re going to do it justice and we’re going to do it well.”

“People don’t expect we can do something like this,” said Michael Lazarow, one of two actors playing Raoul. “I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

“The Phantom of the Opera” will be performed at Cherry Hill West on March 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 7 p.m. and March 18 and 24 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets, visit www.showtix4u.com.