When the cast list went out for Stepinac High School’s spring production of The Phantom of the Opera, sophomore Chris Guzman opened the e-mail with his family crowded around the computer and slowly scrolled down. He saw the role of the Phantom had gone to senior Albert Stanaj. One more click revealed the female lead, Christine, had gone to Samantha Kenny. When he scrolled down one more line, he saw he had been cast as Raoul, Christine’s love interest, the Phantom’s nemesis and the musical’s main protagonist.
“We were thrilled,” Guzman, a White Plains resident, recalls. “My mom, she was almost in tears. She was really happy.”
The Stepinac Drama Club will be performing the famed Andrew Lloyd Webber musical beginning April 27, but already the cast has been rehearsing for as much as 20 hours a week for more than a month.
“It really becomes a full-time commitment,” explained Drama Club Director Frank Portanova. “And it really gets more and more as we get closer to the show.”
The Stepinac Drama Club, which has produced Hollywood stars Jon Voight and Alan Alda, has gone with popular, well-known musical the past two years. Last year, students performed Beauty and the Beast and this year’s performance of Phantom coincides with the show’s 10,000th production on Broadway.
“We try to have a theater program that is going to get the students, obviously excited, but give them the most opportunity to experience what professional theater is going to be about,” Portanova said. “Some students have gone on to Wagner’s theater program, to NYU’s theater program and are studying this to hopefully make theater a profession for them.”
The musical centers on the Phantom, a disfigured man who lives under the Paris Opera House. The Phantom falls in love with Christine but terrorizes the opera house’s occupants, leading to a showdown between the Phantom and Raoul.
Guzman, who played the evil asylum owner Monsieur D’Arque in Beauty and the Beast, said he’s excited to play the heroic Raoul.
“To get yourself into that sort of character is different,” Guzman said. “Normally, I’m a calm, quite kind of guy. But Raoul is this big, heroic, ‘I must save Christine’ kind of guy, so it is tough.”
Since Stepinac is an all-boys school, the female characters are drawn from schools throughout the region. The drama club reached out to nearby all-girl Catholic schools, but anyone was allowed to audition. Kenny, the female lead, goes to Blind Brook High School.
“We’re definitely progressing really quickly,” Guzman said after four weeks of rehearsals. “Christine and the Phantom are just doing a tremendous job, and I feel like I’m progressing too.”
While having a first-rate cast is essential, it wouldn’t do much good without a convincing and professional set. The drama club has a 30-man stage crew and the school is shipping in a giant chandelier for the production, allowing the club to pull off a production a lot of schools wouldn’t try. It won’t be Stepinac’s first ambitious undertaking – when the drama club performed Singing in the Rain, the stage crew made it rain on stage.
While the cast still has three weeks before the curtains open, Guzman said he’s been picturing performing in front of a packed house since the first rehearsal.
“The second we start a show, I envision the finished product. It’s just that determination to get to that point to be able to perform it,” he explained. “I love the opening night, the performances. It’s just a thrill.”
Tickets are now on sale for The Phantom of the Opera, which will be performed April 27 and 28 and May 4-6. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets or for more information, call (914) 946-4800 or visit www.stepinac.org.