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Summer Theater Preview: High School Musical and Phantom of the Opera

It’s going to be a nostalgic summer in musical theater as audience favorites come to Irvine and Costa Mesa. Some of these shows include Phantom of the Opera (Segerstrom Center for the Arts) and High School Musical (Musical Theater Village), based on the iconic film starring Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. 

Fans of High School Musical will have the experience to watch their favorite numbers such as “What I’ve Been Looking For,” “When There Was Me and You” and the classic “We’re All in This Together.” The show revolves around two teenagers Troy Bolton (played by Luke Desmond, Coleton Falke, Tommy Linehan and Garrett Sharland) and Gabriella Montez (played by Jolene Automo, Brittany McCleave, Sofia Migliaccio, Demmi Ross and Jac Schoen) who come from different backgrounds yet develop an unexpected romance after meeting at a party. The two audition for their school’s musical, which gives them a stronger connection, but creates social drama with their peers- especially with the school’s queen bee Sharpay Evans (played by Nola Byrum, Sarah Harris, Gabby Schoen, Larissa Skelton, Melissa Thornton and Jordan Ward).

MTV director Ryan Fredericks said in an interview that he plans to bring back memories of the show that made audiences fall in love with it in the first place.

“There is an element of camp to the show and kind of a cheesy factor to it, but I think that kind of makes that show,” Fredericks said. “The older adults who come see it can embrace it for what it is, and the teens and kids who grew up with that movie can come feel that nostalgia factor.”

As a performer at MTV for the past two decades, Fredericks said he’s really looking forward to directing High School Musical for the first time. He said that audiences can expect the show to stay true to its nature while expecting some new takes as well. 

“I want to add little Easter eggs from [High School Musical 2 and 3], and put that in the stage version of the first one so it kind of alludes to different moments,” he said.

Fredericks went into the audition process looking for young men and women who have the traits the original actors had in the film, but he also wanted to see other unique qualities these actors could bring to the roles. With a lot to consider, Fredericks felt lucky to cast a wide number of talent, including Jac Schoen who will play one of the Gabriellas. When she performed at auditions, Fredericks instantly knew there was something special about her.

“She was somebody who immediately I was like, “I know that I want her in it,’” the director said. “She was somebody that everybody was talking about.”

Audiences are also going to have the chance to see a different side to some of the characters that they remember from the movie. Sharpay, who’s cliched as the high school mean girl, will have moments of sensitivity that weren’t so obvious on-screen.

“There are moments in the show where [Sharpay] kind of feels threatened by Gabriella and it’s because she’s worried that this girl is going to come in and kind of take something from her that she’s worked really hard to get,” Fredericks said. “There’s a scene when she’s with Ryan [Sharpay’s twin brother] and you get to kind of see the vulnerability of Sharpay and seeing how she is kind of just a girl where she doesn’t know if she has a place in the school… that’s one of my favorite scenes is seeing that human side to Sharpay that you don’t necessarily get to see in the movie.”

Musical theater lovers will also have the opportunity to take on their classy side when Phantom of the Opera makes its way down to Costa Mesa after playing at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. The show at Segerstrom Center of the Arts stars Derrick Davis as the Phantom and Eva Tavares as Christine.

The actors said in an interview that the show will stay true to the original production while having more to add in.

“You will see the same story, same characters, same songs, same costumes, but it’s an amped up version of the thing you know and love,” Tavares said. “Because now we have more to play with as far as set design [and] as far as special effects.”

Phantom of the Opera (Matthew Murphy)

As one of the most memorable musicals in history, Phantom of the Opera takes on the story of Christine, a young woman with an exquisite singing voice who becomes the obsession of an outcasted musician. Tavares originally saw Phantom of the Opera when she was 10 years old. Now playing the role as an adult, the actress explained how much she’s learned about the inspiration and growth of her character.

“[Christine] starts as someone who’s plucked from the ballet and thrust into the spotlight and given this huge responsibility,” Tavares said. “And over the course of the show, she really has to develop a real sense of self and also a really grounded strength and defiance almost of the people she thinks she can trust… by the end she has to make choices for herself. I honestly feel that over the course of being on this show, she’s taught me to understand that part of myself a lot better.”

Davis also learned a lot about his character. The actor pointed out how the phantom shows an inner message that humanity refuses to see what can be right in front of them.

“When I first saw the show as a child, it was all about the mystery of it and the frightening parts of it,” Davis said. “And now getting the chance to play the role, I’m realizing that the phantom actually represents all those things in society that humanity tries to hide the things we don’t want society to see before they can see the true us.”

Davis said one of his biggest challenges in playing this role is the physical and emotional stamina that comes with it. Bringing a character like this to life has its obstacles, but thankfully, he and Tavares have each other’s strong endearment to spread the magic on stage.

“There are moments when you’re on stage and you feel the energy come and [Eva] catches me with her eyes,” Davis said. “She catches me with her eyes in a way that calms me and grounds me.”

Phantom of the Opera will play at Segerstrom Center for the Arts from July 10-21. High School Musical plays at Musical theater Village from July 26-Aug. 9.