Lindy Laird showcases some of the stories that come together to ''Let the dream begin, let your darker side give in to the power of the music of the night".
There's only one Phantom - and Northland has him.
Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Phantom of the Opera is a favourite with theatre fans the world over, but the rights holders are permitting just one production in the North Island this year, in Whangārei.
Whangārei Theatre Company has been preparing since last year to stage Phantom, and the show opens at Forum North on Thursday. In a major milestone for the cast and crew, after months of rehearsals in WTC's Riverside Centre and borrowing space at the InStep dance studio, the company has taken up residence in the Capitaine Bougainville Theatre.
''This is the magic time, here we go!'' said director Grant Smith.
''Until now we've been rehearsing in a kind of no-man's land, with no set, no colour, no lighting and no costumes.''
Two weeks ago two large staircases were installed either side of the stage along with a colourful stained glass window as part of the construction WTC did to create the setting of an late 1890s Parisian opera house.
Phantom has been running on New York's Broadway and in London's West End for well over 30 years, and Smith admits creating a Northland production is daunting.
''This is one of the most famous of all the musicals, and we're giving it our all to push our production right up to those international standards.''
Smith brings to the production decades of experience and a deep passion for the stage show.
"It's a fantastic opportunity for Whangārei to experience local talent performing a dynamic and well-known musical show to a very high standard.''
Smith has enjoyed a 40-year career teaching drama and music, much of it in musical theatre in Whangārei. As well as being an accomplished keyboard player, he has performed, directed, choreographed and designed sets and costumes for dozens of productions.
He was nominated as best director in the NAPTAs (Northern Area Performance Theatre Awards) for Chicago and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, best choreographer for Grease, Chicago and Disco Inferno. He also won a NAPTA for best set design for Cabaret which he also directed and choreographed. Most recently he has choreographed The Wizard of Oz and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Smith worked with the late Joan Kennaway QSM, as director of the first opera to be produced in Whangārei.
For Phantom, the on-stage cast numbers almost 40 and some of them make six costume changes over the course of the show. At one point, all 40 are on stage at the same time.
Organising the orchestra of more than 20 is no mean feat either. Fitting a string section, brass, keyboards and percussion into the small orchestra pit calls for almost military precision.
''It's a case of you first, then you. A bit like fitting the pieces of a jigsaw,'' musical director Ray Palmer said.
He's happy to be back at the Capitaine Bougainville Theatre, having overseen music for previous shows including Cats and The Sound of Music.
Choreographer Barbara Trimmer described the challenge of choreography as, ''problem solving at a really high level".
"I am really spoiled with Phantom to have dancers who are trained in classical ballet," she said.
Trimmer trained in classical ballet to Advanced level with the late Tess Graham ONZM, and had several leading roles, including Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and Les Sylphides.
Cam Dow plays the complex, embittered, genius Phantom, a character which has long been at the top of Cam's list of all-time dream roles. He said he has enjoyed exploring the character's emotions of passion, madness, evil and unrequited love.
Dow got hooked on the performing arts while growing up in Palmerston North and had several roles under his belt before arriving in Whangārei. New to town, he found himself at home in Whangārei Theatre Company, and took on the comic role of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz in 2017.
Last year he was cast as Annas in Jesus Christ Superstar, a role that exercised his upper vocal range and gave him the opportunity to portray a slimy, sneaky, and malicious character. Dow has also performed in Octagon Theatre productions in Whangārei.
Camilla McMillan Bergman plays Christine Daae, singing songs that have marked significant landmarks in her career.
Moving to New Zealand from Scotland as a girl, she has performed in several high profile situations including in the semifinals of a TV talent quest, singing for the Prime Minister when she was young, and invited by Ray Woolf to sing his Millennium composition at Waitangi.
McMillan Bergman took up a double music scholarship at King's College in Auckland, continued with classical training under mezzo soprano Carol Maher, and performed in several shows. After her OE, she was a guest vocalist on the late Rob Guest's NZ tour in 2006, performing duets from both Phantom and Beauty and the Beast.
She lives near Kerikeri with husband Max and children Finn, 4, and Ella, 2, and happily drives hundreds of kilometres in round trips to rehearsals in Whangārei up to four times a week.
Richard Pollard's performances include as radio host, public speaker and chemistry teacher but never before in musical theatre, let alone taking on the challenging role of Raoul, Vicompte de Chagny.
Pollard first saw Phantom on a family trip to London when he was six. He remembers the thrill and anticipation as the lights went down and the powerful first notes came from the orchestra.
"It will stay with me forever, such a menacing and thrilling wall of sound."
Migrating to New Zealand in 2014, Pollard now teaches at Kamo High School and has a regular Beagle Radio show in Whangārei discussing food, beer, music and philosophy with his guests.
"I know that my 6-year-old self and grandparents would have been very proud," he said of being in Phantom.
The production's main performers were chosen last year, including well-known dancer, singer and actress Sarah Whittles, who plays the diva Carlotta.
It's quite a catch for WTC to snare her for the part.
"When I'm performing I'm absolutely in the moment ... completely aware,'' she said.
Those moments have included performing in shows alongside Dames Malvina Major and Kiri Te Kanawa, and many years with the New Zealand Opera Company. Along with other cast members, she's been putting in up to 20 hours of rehearsal work every week.
''Everyone involved is just so enthusiastic and energetic. I'm having a great time,'' she said. ''[Phantom] is my past coming back to haunt me, but it all comes back, just like riding a bike.
''And it's a great role with fabulous costumes - everything from vibrant, gorgeous period dresses to an amazing sea creature.''
Phantom of the Opera opens June 6 at Forum North, tickets from The Hub, Town Basin or Ticketek. Facebook.com/The-Phantom-of-the-Opera-Whangarei.
Kerikeri and the Phantom connection
The man who may be the most famous Phantom shares something with one of the stars of this latest production - Kerikeri.
British actor, comedian and first man of the mask Michael Crawford played the Phantom alongside Sarah Brightman as Christine Daae. Crawford moved to the Dooves Bay near Kerikeri in the early 2000s, to restore his health.
Camilla McMillan Bergman, who plays Christine Daae in the Whangārei production of Phantom of the Opera, also lives near Kerikeri.
At the time of moving to his cottage by the sea, the Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em and Phantom star suffered from chronic fatigue. It is not known if he still lives there.
He told Britain's Daily Mail newspaper in 2012 the change of pace had rid him of the ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) that was crippling him and threatened to end his career. He told the paper he had been leading a secluded life in the unnamed town, people knew him as Mike, and his best friend was a dairy farmer.
''I decided to relocate from Britain to get healthy and smell the roses,'' Crawford said. ''If you want solitude you can find it here and people are very respectful of that.
''You make mates that are in completely different areas of life to yourself. My best mate here is a dairy farmer and we talk like every night for about 20 minutes about God knows what, sorting the world out, and we go sailing.
''They know me as Mike ... It's always Michael in England, it's more formal.''
Close your eyes and let music set you free
As in musical theatre tradition, the stage show of Phantom of the Opera story was nicked from a book.
In this case Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Charles Hart (lyrics) make a brilliant feast of the book of the same name by French journalist and detective story writer Gaston Leroux.
The show's powerful music and lyrics tell the dark story of how a young soprano becomes the obsession of a disfigured and murderous musical genius. Deformed since birth, the ghostly man known only as the Phantom lives in a labyrinth of tunnels underneath the Paris Opera House.
With his face masked, he privately tutors and falls in love with chorus singer Christine Daae. In turn, her soul filled by the beauty and love within the music, she believes the Phantom to be the "Angel of Music" sent by her deceased father.
To promote his protege, the Phantom begins to terrorise the rest of the opera company, sending the diva soprano Carlotta half crazy and demanding Christine be given the lead roles.
Things get worse when Christine falls in love with her childhood acquaintance Raoul, the opera's new patron.
Mad with jealousy, his own bitter pain and the fear of losing Christine, the Phantom imprisons her in his lair beneath the opera house. By then his mask has slipped and she has seen his disfigurement. He is determined she cannot go free after that.
Christine's lover Raoul pursues them but can he save her from the Phantom?
We won't tell answer that, but no spoiler could dampen the passion and climax of the musical that has kept theatre audiences enthralled, many returning time and again since the show first appeared in the West End in 1988.