The Phantom in red.
By Kasey Sheridan
The Phantom, played by Zak Tahsin, is photographed by Michael Mahoney.

People of CSU - Tyler Milcic, director of “Phantom of The Opera: Live!”

“Every single second, we’ve been trying to understand that this is such a big moment for everybody involved.”






Cleveland State University theatre major Tyler Milicic did something nobody at CSU has ever done before — he directed a student-led production of Ken Hill’s “Phantom of The Opera,” collaborating with students from both the theatre and film departments. In fact, the particular version of the play he directed hasn’t been performed on tour since the 1990s. 

Ken Hill’s “Phantom of The Opera” is, according to Milicic, “a farce” and “very funny” — and audiences enjoyed the show for free in-person and online.

“Phantom of The Opera: Live!” (“Phantom Live”) ran from Friday, Dec. 8 to Saturday, Dec. 9 in the Berkman Hall auditorium. Tickets to the show were free and could be reserved online. 

The cast stands over a dead Phantom.

The ensemble stands over the lifeless Phantom. (Credit: Kasey Sheridan)

Milicic is a senior theatre direction major with an English minor. He directed “Phantom Live,” but he also helped with costume design, lighting design, and sound design for the show. 

“I have a lot of hats in this,” Milicic said. 

The show

Ken Hill’s “Phantom of The Opera” premiered in Lancaster, England in 1976 and its most recent revival tour hit the West End in 1991. So it’s safe to assume you probably haven’t seen this adaptation of Gaston Thoueux’s melodramatic tale.

The show actually predates Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of The Opera,” the musical responsible for the iconic theme most people are familiar with today. But, had Webber not attended a production of Hill’s show in 1984, the longest-running show on Broadway would have never existed in the first place.

The Phantom and Christine.

The Phantom confronts Christine, played by Elizabeth Corpus. (Credit: Kasey Sheridan)

When Zak Tahsin, a senior film major who would eventually play Phantom in the show, approached Milicic last semester about doing the show, he said he’d never heard of it before. 

“I didn’t even know the rights were available for that. But it wasn’t Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, it was Ken Hill’s,” Milicic said. “It’s so funny, and I love comedy. It’s like Mel Brooks’s ‘Phantom of The Opera.’” 

The two-act show features an array of witty, and sometimes dramatic musical numbers. Hill was deeply inspired by classical opera pieces and attempted to give the score a Victorian-era feel.

Raoul, The Phantom, and Christine sing a song in the graveyard.

The Phantom stands behind Christine and Raoul, played by Dennis Bunch, during “To Pain My Heart Selfishly Dooms Me.” (Credit: Kasey Sheridan)

Milicic’s favorite song is “To Pain My Heart Selfishly Dooms Me,” the final song of the first act, which is a trio between Christine, Raoul, and the Phantom.

“That song is crazy good. It gives me chills every time.”

A lot of hats

Despite having limited experience with theatre design before “Phantom Live,” Milicic dared to learn from experience, teaching himself how to use the lightboard and spotlights just days before the show opened.

While “Phantom Live” was Milicic’s directorial debut, he’s not inexperienced by any means.

Milicic has had a lengthy career with CSU’s Department of Theatre and Dance. He’s had acting roles in “She Loves Me,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “Avenue Q,” to name a few, and he assistant directed “The Skin of Our Teeth.”

He said he’s learned a lot about theatre in his four years at CSU.

The Persian grabbing Richard's coat.

The Persian, played by Zoe Frager, confronts Richard, played by Katie Steim, Madame Giry, played by Jackie Blanc, and Raoul. (Credit: Kasey Sheridan)

“Every single time I do a production or walk through the doors and talk with my fellow students, I feel this reignited passion for creation,” Milicic said. “I've learned from directors, from my professors and fellow students why theatre matters and why it's so important to create it.”

Milicic is no stranger to creating theatre.

Like You” is an original musical written by Milicic and based on a play he wrote in high school that was performed online to raise money for charity. He’s currently working on writing music for the show, as well as finding venues to host workshops in as the play gets its footing.

Milicic and his collaborators have already released an EP that includes six song demos from the musical, featuring three CSU students.

An uphill battle

Putting on an entirely student-led production was no easy feat.

“It’s been an uphill battle with rehearsals,” Milicic said.

The cast started rehearsing in mid-Sept. and, according to Milicic, it wasn’t always easy. Many of the students involved in the production had numerous other time commitments to work around, and many of them, including Milicic, were also in the CSU Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of the musical “Avenue Q,” which ran in the first two weeks of November.

Milicic also emphasized the fact that everybody involved in the show was a volunteer, as the show had a practically nonexistent budget, which didn’t make anything easier.

“It’s a huge scale with a micro budget,” Milicic said.”You’re volunteering to be part of the show. So it's not like I'm going to say, ‘Hey, you better be at rehearsal or I'm going to fire you.’ You had to be compassionate and understanding."

Sometimes, it was difficult to even reserve a room on campus to rehearse in, so it wasn’t unusual for unsuspecting students to stumble upon a group of students singing tracks from “Phantom of The Opera” in the hallway during the rehearsal process.

Richard and Raoul.

Katie Steim, left, stepped up and mastered the role of Richard in only a month’s time. (Credit: Kasey Sheridan)

At one point, the actor playing Richard—the show’s lead character—quit, and ensemble member Katie Steim, a sophomore theatre major, had to step up and take the part.

“She had a month to learn it,” Milicic said. “And she killed it.”

A collaborative art

Aside from the impressive facts that Ken Hill’s production of “Phantom of The Opera” had its last revival over 30 years ago, and that the play is one of the first student-led performance projects on campus since the COVID-19 pandemic began. What made this project unique was the collaboration between CSU’s Theatre and Film Departments.

“It’s the first time Theatre and Film has collaborated like this,” Milicic said. “Every single second, we’ve been trying to understand that this is such a big moment for everybody involved.”

Film students attended the show on its opening night on Friday, Dec. 8, manning a number of cameras setup throughout the auditorium.

The performance was live-streamed on YouTube on Saturday, Dec. 9 and Sunday, Dec. 10, giving those who didn’t get to see the show in-person the chance to enjoy it online. 

“I would love to see more collaboration between the theater and film department,” Milicic said. “We have so many creative students who have such passion to create something new. Sometimes it's taken for granted, in my opinion. Working with the film students has been so eye opening in many different ways.”

The Phantom stands over the cast, bathed in red light.

The Phantom returns as a specter in the final moment of the show. (Credit: Kasey Sheridan)

So proud

The show was met with roaring laughter and applause from audiences, and by every measure was a success. Milicic’s intricate directing choices added to the hilarity of the show, and the cast and crew of students gave it their all. 

“I'm most proud of all these people coming together to make something so special, and I am so honored to have this be my directorial debut,” Milicic said. “It’s something that not anyone has ever seen before. Working with such a great cast of people has been so rewarding.”

With graduation on the horizon, there’s no doubt that Milicic will continue to accomplish incredible things in the world of theatre. 

“Phantom of The Opera: Live!” is a stellar example of what can happen when talented students come together to create art.

“I’m so proud of it.”

You can watch the show on YouTube.