Pulling the curtain back on ‘Phantom’ production at Hale Theatre
Sep 30, 2019 04:04PM
● By Stephanie DeGraw
Kacey Udy, head set designer, showing the costume planning board behind the scenes at the Hale Centre Theatre. (Stephanie DeGraw/City Journals)
By Stephanie DeGraw | [email protected]
A small army is toiling behind the scenes to create magic on the stage at the Hale Centre Theatre.
There are many moving parts at once, according to the set designer Kacey Udy. "We just barely opened ‘The Addams Family’ last week, and then we jumped instantly into this new production of ‘Phantom of the Opera.’"
While they are working on opening “Phantom,” they also are completing designs and plans for shows that will open next year. It is a challenge to continually keep up on the multiple productions and hundreds of performances each year, he said.
"The full-time teams at Hale Theatre have been working for months to design, build and put together the sets, costumes, props, wigs, lighting, sound and automation designs for ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ It's a large-scale show that has some of the biggest sets that we have created at our theater just for this production," Udy said. "It is now an exciting time where everything is coming together, and this is going to be a show not to be missed."
Carefully crafted backstage state-of-the-art technology provides the theater designers a complete range of flexibility. The Young Living Centre Stage Theatre is 24 feet around and intersected by an X, which creates four entrances for actors. The 910-seat stage is entirely automated, with a central lift in the middle and two crescent-shaped side lifts. An entire scene can be lowered down into the pit. Then two cantilevered slip stages, which weigh 20 tons, can close over it to create a new stage, which allows for quick scene changes. Above it is an overhead fly space, where two carriages can move sets up and down onto the stage.
A unique challenge of staging in the round is how to transition from one scene to the next. There are no curtains to hide changes, and everything is visible to the audience, Udy said. "The scene transitions become almost a character in the show as they work together with the actors to help tell the story. There's a lot of moving pieces to this show; set pieces lift from below and fly in above the stage. Things are constantly in motion, and figuring out how so many massive set pieces can transition safely and effectively is an exciting challenge," Udy said.
Sometimes the set pieces are uniquely challenging, such as the “Phantom” chandelier. It is 13 feet by 13 feet tall and weighs over a ton. It has one mile of crystal with over 60,000 individual beads. It has 72 unique lighting fixtures, 18 pyrotechnic effects, 72 individual cherubs, five fog machines and can fall at the speed of 6 feet per second.
"It is always rewarding to see things that you have worked on for hundreds of hours come together to make magical moments that sometimes only last for a few seconds on stage," Udy said. "For example, the chandelier has taken dozens of people hundreds of hours to design, construct, paint, finish, hang the crystals, install the pyrotechnics, program the automation, create the sound and lighting effects and then put it all on stage and coordinate it with the cast. So many people have played a part over the past six months to create the chandelier and to make the infamous crash that will happen in just a few seconds on stage."
In 1983, director Geoffrey Holder approached Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit to write a musical based on Gaston Leroux's novel early 1900s book, "The Phantom of the Opera."
After receiving the rights from the Leroux estate, the trio began writing the show with some changes to the original story. The musical centers on Erik, born with a deformed face and raised in the catacombs under the Paris Opera House. He lives in the shadows while enjoying the music of the opera. When he hears Christine sing, the newest opera hire and street singer, Erik offers to give her private voice lessons while protecting his identity with a mask.
"Our production of ‘Phantom’ explores a side of the iconic character that you don't see in Andrew Lloyd Webber's ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ I know our patrons will love the new music and new characters in this production that give more depth and insight into the phantom's world," Sally Dietlein, theater vice president and executive producer, said. "‘Phantom’ allows us to go full throttle on everything! From opulent costumes to outstanding acting to exquisite set pieces and props."
The Phantom cast includes Austin Smith and Preston Yates as Phantom; Jennifer Neff and Lisa Zimmerman as Christine Daae; Stephen Faulk and McKay Nicoll as Count Philippe de Chandon; and John Philpott and David Weekes as Gerard Carriere. Sally Dietlein is producing the musical with John J. Sweeney directing and Jennifer Hill Barlow choreographing. Anne Puzey oversees the music. The vast sets are put together by set designer Udy. Kelsey Nichols and her staff create detailed costumes. The hair and make-up designs are from Trisha Ison. Dan Morgan does sound design. Michelle Jensen has assembled spectacular props, and properties designer Jess Edling is the stage manager.
Phantom runs Sept. 23–Nov. 9 in the Hale Centre Theatre at the Mountain American Performing Arts Centre in Sandy. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday with many weekday matinees at 4 p.m. and weekend matinees at 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. No children under the age of 5 are allowed. For ticket information, call 801-984-9000 or go to www.hct.org.