Texas Tech University

Rising Stars: Students Headlining ‘Phantom of the Opera' Share Stories

Heidi Toth

November 2, 2016

Phantom of the Opera

Marissa Hernandez and Josh Reynolds are playing two-thirds of the tragic love triangle along with Texas Tech alum and Broadway star David Gaschen.

Gaschen, Hernandez, Reynolds

Texas Tech students Marissa Hernandez and Joshua Reynolds join Broadway star David Gaschen for Phantom of the Opera.

Two Texas Tech University students are seeing their career dreams come true before they graduate from college.

Marissa Hernandez, a senior studying music performance, and Joshua Reynolds, a junior studying music education, are playing Christine and Raoul, two of the stars of Andrew Lloyd Webber's “The Phantom of the Opera.” Not only are they both playing their dream roles, but they're performing opposite of David Gaschen, a Texas Tech alumnus who has returned to his alma mater for continuing education this semester. Gaschen has played the Phantom more than 1,500 times on Broadway and throughout the world.

Hernandez and Reynolds sat down together to discuss performing with Gaschen, their dream roles, how they've gotten to know their characters and what comes next. 

Why did you audition for “Phantom of the Opera?”

JR: It's kind of a loaded question because we didn't exactly know we were auditioning for it.
MH: The auditions for “Phantom” were part of the auditions for the 2016-17 Texas Tech Opera Theatre. It's a big audition for several different shows, so we auditioned for all the shows at once and then they placed us where they thought we would be best. I auditioned because I'm a performance major, so auditioning and being in shows is a big part of my degree.
JR: I auditioned because I love performing. I'm a music ed major, but performing is a big part of who I am. And it's a lot of fun.


But you knew Phantom was a possibility.

MH: No.
JR: Not yet.
MH: When we auditioned we didn't know. I kind of heard little ideas of what shows they were doing, but I actually hadn't heard that Phantom was a possibility until after auditions.

What were your reactions? And is that when you found out Phantom was coming?

MH: That's how I found out. My voice teacher texted me and told me to call him, because he didn't post a Phantom cast list, he just posted a cast list for the other two operas, and my name wasn't on it, so I thought, “Did I not get cast in anything?” Then he realized he probably had scared me, so Mr. Dent (Karl Dent, professor of voice and choral studies) called me to let me know I would be playing Christine, but the cast list wasn't up yet, and Jerry Dolter called me to make sure I knew he hadn't forgotten about me.
At first, before it was officially decided that it would be strictly students, they were talking about hiring a Christine. They told me I would understudy and go in for two performances, and then when the decision was made it would be strictly students and that was needed for rights, he called me and told me I would be full-time Christine for all the performances.
I was actually at a performance of “Cabaret” when they called. It was intermission.
JR: I was sitting outside of a classroom in a desk waiting for a final, and Mr. Dolter walked up to me and said, “Josh, do you think you could play Raoul?” and all I could do was (pantomiming vigorous head-nodding) shake my head. Uh-huh. Uh-huh!

How long have you been rehearsing?

MH: We both have the same voice teacher, so over the summer we would meet with him and work on music, and then we started actual rehearsals from the first day of school on.


How many hours would you say you've spent so far?

MH (laughing): Oh, God. Well, Monday-Wednesday-Friday it's five hours a day.
JR: If we're called.
MH: Yeah, if we're called. Monday-Wednesday-Friday there's some form of rehearsal going on for five hours. There's two hours in the afternoon, three in the evening. And sometimes you'll be called, sometimes you're not. We're both called a lot. You won't have to be there if they're rehearsing a scene you're not in, but we're in a lot of the scenes.
JR: We're there a good amount of time.
MH: Tuesday-Thursday there's rehearsals three hours a day. And then there's practicing on your own.
JR: I would say at least a good 18-20 hours a week.
MH: It's basically a job.

Have you met David Gaschen?

JR: My mom went to high school with him. They worked at Schlotzsky's together.
MH: We had a photo shoot with him, and I had a recording session with him a couple of weeks ago. He's so nice. He's just a genuine, very down-to-earth guy.

Were you worried about working with a professional actor who's made his career on this role?


MH: I wasn't worried.
JR: I want to get up to that level. I want to be at a level that he'd be happy with, or that he would be happy with performing on Broadway. I want to get up to that level. But I'm not worried about it.
MH: Yeah, we weren't worried. He's just really well-known, so talented. I wasn't worried, but I had him up on this pedestal. And then I met him and it's like hanging out with your best friend's dad. He's just the least intimidating person. He makes jokes. You can't take anything he says seriously. And he's so talented, but he's also so generous when you're working with him. He offers to help you, he gives you ideas. Even in the photo shoot, he was all, how about you try this? How about you have this look on your face? He's just a very down-to-earth, generous guy.

What's been the best part of the process?

JR: I would say exploring the characters. I'm really finding out who Raoul is, and it's starting to become a part of me, of whom I am. It's really nice to do that because I can tell Marissa's feeling that way as well, and our characters are starting to really connect.
MH: You really start to fall in love with your character, which is really cool. It's like meeting a brand-new person, having a relationship with them.
Also, recording was really cool. I'd never recorded anything, so going into a recording studio and having the headphones and the mic that hangs from the ceiling – it was really a neat experience for me.

What's been the hardest part?

JR: Getting it all memorized, for me. The good thing is, it's a lot of music. It's mostly sung.
MH: And I think memorizing music is easier than lines, so that's kinda helped.

Do you have a favorite line or favorite song?

JR: I think my favorite song is the duet between Christine and Raoul, “All I Ask of You.” It's very emotionally open: I'm here, I will protect you. It's just us two, it's very sensitive and …, oh what's the word?
MH: Intimate. It's intimate. The more we've worked on it, that's become one of my favorites, too, because it's a really good moment for Christine, and the more we've worked on the show the more I've realized Christine has a lot of bad moments. She has a lot of really hard decisions, a lot of dark moments, and it's really nice to have a scene where for a little while, for one song, she's just happy and things go right.

What would you like to get out of this experience?

JR: My favorite thing is the applause. Just to walk out and have everybody clapping for you. That is a high, personally.
MH: The experience and the knowledge you gain from it. I had a voice teacher in high school who always said, “Every experience is less inexperience.” So for every performance afterwards I feel like I'm a little bit less inexperienced. I've learned a little bit more about myself and that character in that show, and also the relationships you build when you're in a show.

Do you remember your first time on stage?

Both (almost in unison): Yeah.
JR: You go first.
MH: My parents met through theatre friends, so they put me in my first show when I was 2, and it was this little thing called Canyon Follies that raised money for the Canyon Chamber of Commerce. It was a variety show, and my dad was directing it that year. One of the little scenes was me, my mom and my big sister, who's 18 months older than me. We all dressed up like hobos and there was this red bucket, and I sat on the bucket and my mom and Madison danced around me and we sang “Side by Side.”
When I was 5, my parents put me in “Texas the Musical” in Palo Duro Canyon, and I did that every summer until I was 15, then I took a couple years off, then I did it as an adult chorus member the summers of 2014 and 2015. So that's where my love of theater and performing began.

So it's been a part of your life since before you were born?

MH: Oh yeah. Basically. I'm pretty sure my mom was in a show while she was pregnant with me.
JR: I've been in choir since about fifth grade, but my first musical was when I was 15. It was actually with Moonlight Musicals out at the amphitheater. It was “My Son Pinocchio.” That summer they were doing “My Son Pinocchio,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Sound of Music.” I auditioned wanting to be Rolf.

The Nazi?

JR: I think, yes.
MH: Leisl's love interest.
JR (singing): “You are 16, going on 17, …”
I knew “Sound of Music” very well, so I tried out for that. I ended up being just a regular Nazi. (laughs)
MH: I played Maria in high school.
JR (singing): “How do you solve a problem like Maria?”

Do you find yourselves frequently in conversation just breaking out into music?

JR: Oh yes.
MH: Yeah!
JR: That doesn't just come from being a music major. My mom and her family, oh my gosh – any chance they get to break out into any song they know, they will. I think that's partly why I've kind of stuck with music is I've always been around them singing or looking at them going, “What are you doing? Why?”
MH: That's how my family is, too. We used to sing on family road trips, and we'd all harmonize with each other …
JR (under his breath): That sounds awesome.
MH: Everyone in my family sings and/or plays an instrument. I remember when we were little there was this church that paid us as a family to perform for their church small-groups Valentines party. As payment they gave us gift cards to the movies and to dinner so we could have family nights. My family has always performed. My whole family does “Texas;” it wasn't just me. My dad was the executive director for a while, my mom's still one of the leads in it, all my little siblings are kids in it. Yeah, for me it's not just a music major thing, it's a family thing.

What do you want to do after you finish?

JR: Finish Phantom?

Finish school.

JR: Oh, I was going to say sleep.
MH: Sleep! Probably take a nap.
After school – I'm a senior, so I'm planning that right now. I'm applying to graduate school; I'd like to go get a master's in vocal performance and then go out and start performing and auditioning for things. I'd like to do performing on stage. I'm really interested in musical theater and opera, and I'd love to be a crossover artist and be able to do both.
Eventually I would like to get a doctorate and be a professor of voice at a university.

Do you have a dream role or a dream stage on which you want to perform?

MH: Well, this was my dream role. This was always my dream role. I'm going to have to figure out something else, but honestly, this is one of those roles I would love to turn into a career role. I really connect with this role, and I really understand Christine, and so I would love to perform this again and possibly have a career being Christine.
JR (whispering): That'd be awesome.
MH: I'm going to have to figure out a new dream role, I guess, because I got to do my dream role at 21, which is crazy. No one gets to do that. It's such an amazing thing.
My dream stage – I would love to even just be in the chorus on Broadway, just be on a Broadway stage. And I've always wanted to perform in Italy and live in Italy for a year or two and perform there, or Germany. I'd love to go live in Europe for a little while.

Josh, what are your post-grad plans?

JR: Well, I'll be student teaching before I graduate. After I graduate, I want to get a job pretty quickly teaching choir. But I do want to keep performing on the side. And yeah, just keep going with music. And travel the world.
MH: See everything.
JR: That's my main, No. 1 goal. Everything else just kind of helps that.

Do you have a dream role or a dream stage?

JR: Phantom would be nice, but that's a little high for me. I don't know if I physically could. So Raoul is a fantastic role. Other than that, nothing comes to mind, but I'm …
MH: Is Marius too high for you? I've always pictured you being a Marius.
JR: I could be Marius, from “Les Miserables.” That would be fun. I'm open to anything.

Is there a stage you'd like to be on? Or some musical experience that you'd like to have?

JR: Oh man, I've already had a few of those, with being in choir. Last year we got to sing at the Texas Music Educators Association convention, which was amazing. I sang at Carnegie Hall twice, once for a barbershop chorus and then for another audition chorus last year. For choir we're going to Lincoln Center in May.
MH: which is really exciting.
JR: Actually, one stage I do want to perform solo on is the new Buddy Holly Center. Being from Lubbock, when I read the news and saw the video they put out, I was almost in tears because there was not much going on musically in Lubbock. It's happening now. That is one stage that I will call people, I will be like, let me come be the soloist for this or that. That stage.

Going back to what you're going to do after Phantom – sleep?

JR: Sleep.
MH: Sleep! Maybe eat a tub of ice cream …
JR: Yeah, sounds great.
MH: Watch Netflix.
JR (laughing): Focus more on school. Honestly, it's weird when rehearsals end for a show.
MH: You don't really know what to do.
JR: Your time is all freed up.
MH: We'll probably be doing these things to keep our minds off the fact that we're not at “Phantom,” because once you stop the show it's really sad. It's like a post-show depression. We were talking about how we have fallen in love with our characters. It's like you begin this relationship with this person and all of a sudden it's over and you don't get to hang out with Christine or be Christine anymore, and it's kinda weird.
JR: It's almost like a breakup.
MH: Yeah, it's like a breakup. Ending a show is like a breakup.

Aren't you just exhausted?

JR: I've got to say, I love being at rehearsal.
MH: It's a good exhaustion.
JR: Yes. I get energy from rehearsing, especially this. One night I got 3.5 hours of sleep. Most of that day was just me dragging myself everywhere, but once I got into rehearsal I was perfectly fine. This is at 7 at night after having an entire day of barely sleeping. I was at rehearsal and was fine, and then I went home and slept, and that was the best sleep I've ever had.
MH: At rehearsal you go into this place where it's so focused, and it just gives you energy and gives you life. Then once you leave you feel exhausted, but it's a good exhaustion.
One of my theatre teachers always says you should leave rehearsal feeling like you're about to drop, because that's how much you gave to it. So when you leave and you feel exhausted, it's kind of a good thing. I gave what was required to that rehearsal.

Are you rehearsing in costume yet?

MH: We're practicing in our shoes. We've started wearing shoes.
JR: They bought me shoes, and they kind of look like hers right now. (Ankle boots with a heel)They do change how I walk because they have a heel. Not only does it make me taller, it makes me stand different – more like a noble, like I should.
MH: Other than that, we both had costumes on for photo shoots.
JR: I'm growing out my hair for this. Ugh. I had long hair when I was in middle school, and I cut it off for a reason.

Marissa, do you have to make any physical changes?

MH: I have to stay out of the sun. I'm naturally a little tanner, because I'm half-Hispanic, but I'm one of those people, if I'm in the sun, my skin will get really dark, but if I stay out of it, I can get paler. A woman in the 19th century in France would not have darker skin, so I'm staying out of the sun so I'll be a little paler. For the photo shoots they've mixed in a lighter shade of foundation to make my face look a little paler.
JR: I'm already there. I glow in the dark.
MH: We're both learning to stand different for it. We stand like people nowadays stand, which isn't great, and so we're both learning how to stand really tall and lift our chests, and I find myself starting to do it in regular life now.
JR: I'm trying to practice while walking the halls.
MH: Actually, once you get used to it, it feels better. My back doesn't hurt when I walk.

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