by Chris Davis
The fanfare has passed. TV cameras have been packed away and the crowd has exited the U of M's Big Red theater. Bob Hetherington, the Chair of the department of theater and dance plops down on the front row after making a huge announcement. In February, 2012, the U of M's theater and music department will join together to produce Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. It's a part of the university's centennial celebration. Hetherington is giddy. He looks like he might float away. He says he was asked to dream big. And that's about as big as it gets.
There had been some early discussion about reviving Hair, Hetherington says. Memphis State staged the first non-professional production of America's tribal love rock musical in 1970 and it caused quite a stir. But he didn't think it was right. Why celebrate a galvanizing moment of years past when you can create a new one? Right? Very few non-professional theaters have been granted the rights to produce Phantom, and whether you love or hate it, there's no denying that Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical retelling of the classic horror story is the biggest thing that ever happened to musical theater.
The U of M is launching a new program for students studying musical theater and Hetherington sees the University's centennial as the perfect opportunity to do something special.
"I'm doing Phantom of the Opera in a theater that doesn't have any traps in it," He sighs as reality sets in and the excitement mounts. "It's going to be interesting."
Phantom of the Opera opens on February 16, 2012. "Only eight performances," Hetherington says impishly. Tickets go on sale in November, 2011.