Hereford High students hard at work on play

"The Phantom of the Opera" just celebrated its 25th anniversary of New York performances, making it the longest running show on Broadway. An estimated 130 million people have seen the show in theaters around the world.

Hereford High School theater students hope to add several thousand people to that total when they present the musical later this month at the Parkton school.

"This is a huge undertaking, but we have the talent to make it work," said Chris Rose, the show's director, who teaches English and theater at Hereford. "We're the first school in Baltimore County to perform 'Phantom' and it will be an exact version of the Broadway show."

He said the musical, which he has seen five times, was first made available to high schools and colleges two years ago.

The production features music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and is based on a novel by Gaston Leroux. It is the story of a masked man who lives beneath the Paris Opera House in the late 1800s. He falls in love with an opera singer and holds her against her will in his underground lair.

Seniors Hudson Imhoff and Brianna Mooney have the lead roles of the Phantom and Christine, the opera singer.

Both have been in Hereford productions for four years. Mooney plans to major in musical theater in college, while Imhoff is hoping for an appointment to the Naval Academy.

"This is my dad's favorite production, and it has always been my dream role," Mooney said. "I just saw it on Broadway this weekend, and I really studied Christine."

Imhoff said he heard the music growing up when his grandfather frequently played the album.

"It's a chilling and beautiful story," he said. "I hope the audience is sympathetic toward the Phantom by the end."

The production also features seniors Jesse Clarke and Zach Robertson as the managers of the opera house who have to deal with the terror caused by the Phantom.

Senior Kaitlyn Fowler plays an opera choreographer. Jessica de Groot, a senior, is a demanding opera singer and Ben Mann, a junior, is her assistant. Senior Keyvon Kaliush is Christine's old boyfriend and Grace Chandler, a senior, plays Christine's best friend.

Team effort

Since the action takes place in an opulent opera house with a grand staircase as well as in the dark tunnels and rooms beneath it, director Rose had to be creative when designing the sets.

He had help from 15 students in his theater tech class and some volunteers.

"This is the biggest set I've ever helped with in my four years here," said Tyler Wolfe, a senior who is the play's sound and tech director. "Normally we build one platform. With this show, we're doing three, and they're all movable."

The class hammered, sawed and painted several days a week, starting in January, to get the stage ready.

"This is a fun class since we also learn about lights, sound, sets, make-up, hair and costumes," said Chloe Brush, a junior, as she and her sister Kelsey, a freshman, drilled studs to an 8-foot by 4-foot wall. Both girls are also chorus members.

Another group of students traced outlines on Styrofoam blocks that will serve as seven tombstones in a cemetery Christine visits.

Junior Tom Adle's job was to create a framework for a chair that will allow the Phantom to disappear from the stage.

"It's kind of like doing a magic trick," he said as he looked for lumber to make a false back for the chair. "This show is at least twice as complicated as any show I've worked on," he said.

Rose is also getting help from the school's engineering design and research class. They are building a boat the Phantom uses to take Christine to his hideout.

The class is putting a boat hull onto the chassis of a go-cart. They have converted it from gas to battery-powered. A student will steer the boat by remote control from backstage during the play.

Gussie Price, a former Hereford parent who has volunteered to be in charge of costumes for 14 years, said this play calls for more than 200 costumes. They are buying 25, but she and 10 students are making the rest - either from scratch or by altering costumes from other productions. She and the costume crew meet each afternoon in a room below the stage filled with sewing machines and fabric.

"We start working on costumes the day the cast does their first read-through," Price said. "We take measurements of each cast member and go from there."

Music will be provided by Hereford students under the direction of Peter Lander, music department chairman.

'Phantom' ticket information

Performances at Hereford High School auditorium are Feb. 28, March 1, 2, 8 and 9. Showtime is 7 p.m.

Box office opens at 5:30 p.m., auditorium at 6:30 p.m. Tickets for open seating are $8 in advance and $10 at the door.

Parents of Performing Students are holding a special dinner and show on March 1. Tickets are $23 per person and include dinner at 5:30 p.m. by Hunt Valley Catering and a ticket to the auditorium's center section.

Because contractual arrangements restrict online ticket sales, advanced tickets must be reserved by mail. They will be held at the box office on the evening of the performance. Send checks for $8 per ticket and indicate show date to: Parents of Performing Students, Hereford High School, 17301 York Road, Parkton MD 21120. Make checks payable to Hereford High School. Include e-mail address in case of questions. Ticket orders must be mailed by Feb. 22. for inquiries.

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