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Phantom of the Opera promises plenty of surprises

April 7, 2011 : Mitzi Bible/Liberty University News Service

The Liberty University Theatre Arts Department has a few surprises in store in Phantom of the Opera, opening Friday, April 8, in the new Tower Theater.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s story of a masked figure who lurks beneath the catacombs of the Paris Opera House, wreaking havoc for all who enter, will be told with many creative sets and illusions.

“The sets are intricate because they’re basically magic tricks — we don’t want to reveal how they’re done, but they’re being built into the sets,” said Linda Nell Cooper, director and head of the Theatre Arts Department.

Technical director Tyson Long said a crew of more than 40 students and 20 support staff started working in early February on the more than 27 set pieces and 365 props needed in the show.

“Every scene has a particular stunt or gimmick or some sort of effect that goes along with it and that’s the hard part because it’s non-stop,” he said. “It has to be believable.”

A company was hired to help direct the new fly and rigging system that is used for moving objects through the air, such as a chandelier, and for moving actors as well – and all of this won’t just happen on the stage.

“We have things flying up above the audience,” Cooper said.

There is much anticipation for the sold-out show, which could be called the largest endeavor for Liberty’s theater program.

“It’s the largest crew we’ve ever had, the largest set pieces we’ve ever had, the most costumes, wigs, masks, props … when you add all of that together, then it’s one of our largest productions,” Cooper said.

Counting the cast and crew, 89 students are involved in the production.

More than 10,000 tickets have been sold for 17 performances. Some of those include bus tours coming from out of state, Cooper said.

Billboards can be seen around the city and a facebook page for Liberty’s show now has more than 1,200 fans.

The appeal of Phantom has a lot to do with it running for 25 years on Broadway, Cooper said.

“It doesn’t make it the most challenging show [we’ve done] … but I think the expectations are higher from our public because it’s so commercial. Because of that I think it raises the bar.”

But it’s a challenge that never could have been met in the former theater, she said.

“We could not have even thought of it — it would have been laughable in there.”

The rights for the full show were made available last June, and Cooper jumped at the opportunity, making Liberty one of the first colleges to perform Phantom.

“Nothing’s left out, it’s all of the dance breaks, everything — it’s exactly the same script you see on Broadway,” she said.

The talent showcased by Liberty’s theater majors is immense, Cooper said, from the strong vocalists to prima ballerinas dancing “en pointe,” to the production side, where students have designed the sets, sound, original costumes and even the extensive makeup work on the Phantom.

She said the show is a grand finale to the first season in Tower Theater.

“The facility allows us to do it [Phantom], and allows the community to come in and enjoy it,” Cooper said. “The community really enjoys the large shows — if we’re packing in the theater this year, we’re hoping we will keep that audience in for future years.”