A love of art in a heart of darkness

April 06, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Merrick Jensen plays Christine, the female lead in Phantom.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

Barnum and Bailey Circus might be known as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” But many theatergoers would beg to differ. To them, it's “Phantom of the Opera.”

With lavish costumes, beautiful sets and soaring music, few productions have riveted audiences quite like the saga of beauty meets beast.

Based on Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel “Le Fantome de l’Opera,” the musical tells the story of a masked figure who lurks beneath the catacombs of the Paris Opera House, spreading terror over all who inhabit it. He falls madly in love with a young soprano, Christine, and devotes himself to nurturing her talents and her career by employing all the devious methods at his command.

The storyline has grown old gracefully and, as the longest-running play on Broadway, isn’t likely to fade away any time soon.

But, for those unable to travel to New York City, the phantom will be unmasked in Hagerstown when the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts presents the popular musical this weekend at The Maryland Theatre. The show opens Friday and runs through Sunday.

Until recently, the rights to perform Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical play were limited to professionals. That changed last year, when the show became available to high schools and colleges.

“When I heard the news, I said ‘Let’s do it,’” said Ruth Ridenour, lead theater teacher at Barbara Ingram and the show’s director.

Ridenour said when selecting a play, she looks at her students and how she can cast them.

“With ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ there’s the opportunity to involve as many ensembles as possible, including vocal, ballet, instrumental and good principals,” she said.

In total, Ridenour said there are nearly 100 students who are part of the production — “65 on stage, a crew of 12 and about 20 in the pit.”

While she and her fellow directors were excited about the opportunity to perform “Phantom,” Ridenour said, initially, the students weren’t so sure.

“Those who knew the play thought it was dark and too heavy,” she said. “But now they’re all on board and are excited about the production.”

Performing at The Maryland Theatre is a bonus for the students, Ridenour said.

“It really is a nice experience. And this show fits with The Maryland Theatre so perfectly,” she said. “We couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere for ‘Phantom.’”

Ridenour said a dedicated group of students, teachers and volunteers helped make the sets, costumes, even draperies. But the chandelier, “so central to the show,” was designed by Flying by Foy, a theatrical rigging and flying company.

“I had worked with them in the past,” Ridenour said, “so, last fall, when I knew we were going to perform ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ I contacted them about installing a chandelier.”

Ridenour said a site manager toured The Maryland Theatre but wasn’t sure the project was possible.

“Because The Maryland Theatre is an old vaudeville house, there is no steel in the ceiling and nothing to attach to,” she said. “But he kept trying to figure something out and came up with the idea of placing trusses overhead and rigging the chandelier to that.”

The company also designed and built the chandelier, which was installed recently at the theater.

Ridenour said the play wouldn’t be possible “without the wonderful production team that gives so much of their time. Everybody takes over their job and does it so well.”

The hard work and rehearsals also have been a good experience for the students, she said.

“Often, all they see is the glamour of theater,” she said. “They don’t see how much effort goes into a production. It’s not all glitter and glitz. And not everyone is the star.”

Ridenour said it’s an opportunity for students to find out early if this is the career they want to pursue.

“I want to give them that passion to love the arts,” she said.
Because of the popularity of the play, Ridenour is hoping for good attendance at all of the performances.

“I think it will be a draw to anyone who knows theater,” she said.

“I also think it will be a defining moment for our school. At the end of the show, I hope people will say, ‘That’s what an arts school is all about,’” she said.

If you go ..
WHAT: Barbara Ingram School for the Arts’ “Phantom of the Opera”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 8; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 9; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 10
WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown
COST: Tickets cost $10 to $25
CONTACT: Go to or call the box office at 301-790-2000.
MORE: In conjunction with “Phantom of the Opera,” a street festival will be held on Saturday. The first block of South Potomac Street will be closed from 4 to 9 p.m. with the school’s Parent Guild hosting music and live performances by cast members.

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