Maureen Desmond photo/SJHS

A class act: Saint John High School student stars in The Phantom of the Opera

by Emily Baron Cadloff - Sunday, January 7, 2018

This article is courtesy of Telegraph-Journal

It was a slippery slope for Drew Murdock. The 17-year-old Saint John High School student never planned on starting, but his curiosity got the better of him. Before he knew it, he was in too deep. He was a theatre kid.

Within 18 months, with some encouragement from his school music teacher, Patricia Gallagher, Murdock has made his way from not singing a note in public, to starring in the school's upcoming production of The Phantom of the Opera.

The love affair with theatre started last year, when Murdock was in Grade 11. Gallagher pressed him to audition for Les Miserables, but when Murdock found himself on stage, things didn't go exactly as planned.

"I'd never sang in public before. At the time, I didn't sing," Murdock recalled with a laugh. "I auditioned and I sang the song an octave lower (than it was written), and that was really low. (Gallagher) called me a foghorn." Instead, Gallagher

asked Murdock to sing the song again - but this time an octave higher. He did, and he was cast in the show. It's a decision that changed his young life.

"It definitely was a confidence booster to know that I was good enough to be selected to be in the show. That was a really good thing for me," said Murdock. While Murdock needed that confidence, Gallagher never doubted his abilities.

"He was kind of a humble, modest kid in music class, and slowly I stared to see the unravelling of a lot of talent there," said Gallagher."It is the biggest gift I could ever receive. And I don't see this very often. He is quite extraordinary. I don't think he has any idea how extraordinary he is."

After performing in Les Mis, Murdock jumped head first into the world of music and theatre. He plays drums, reading drum score, and teaching himself different percussion instruments. He's started taking voice lessons, expanding his baritone range. And he stepped up to direct a production of Little Shop of Horrors, with SJHS staff filling the roles.

"I've always wanted to do that, so why not give that a try, I thought?" Murdock said humbly. "Everyone was awesome in the show. It was a great experience to have a vision in your head, and actually be able to go through with it and put it on to people. It was amazing to see your vision come to life."

Gallagher also performed in Little Shop, and says the experience was like seeing a different side of Murdock. From a shy kid who had never performed in front of people, he had blossomed into a talented actor, singer, and now, a leader in the theatre world.

"He had a clear plan, a clear vision of the direction the show was going to take. Every time we had a rehearsal, there was no humming and hawing, he was very sure of what he wanted. That was quite comforting to me, as a member of the cast," said Gallagher.

For Gallagher, students like Murdock are rare. While she stresses that every student is talented, some have a musical ability, something ephemeral and special. That Murdock chose to develop his aptitude for music is what makes working with him so enjoyable.

"It's the combination of his innate ability and his obvious intellect," Gallagher surmised. "His passion is what drives him. He just loves it, and he's so humble about it, so it's just really g re at w o r k i n g with him. Because he's just a joy."

But Murdock is typically humbler about his talent. Though he recognizes that he has some ability to sing and act, it's not as easy as it might seem. " I d o n' t t h i n k (singing) comes quite as naturally to me. I do have to work hard at that, and I do have to practice. And I take lessons and I can see myself improving with the work that I do," explained Murdock. "It's still new to me. So that is more work. But again, it's something that I love, so it's all worth it."

Once Murdock graduates in June, he plans to study the arts further in university. But where that will be is still up in the air. He's considering the theatre program at Dalhousie University in Halifax, as well as the music program at Mount Allison University in Sackville. Or he could end up in a completely different position. He's open to many possibilities - none of which he had considered even two years ago.

"I was going to get a Bachelor of Science, and get a job. That's what I thought I wanted to do. And then in Grade 11 I got into more of music, and I realized that's not what I want to do, what I want to do is music or theatre or art,"Murdock mused.

"I know I want to do something in that field, but whether I want to be a director, be in set design, be an actor, be a singer, be a percussionist, be a photographer ... the perfect job for me would be to do them all."

But before Murdock goes on to accept his Tony Award, he has to graduate high school. And coming up, he has one last challenge: playing the Phantom in the classic musical The Phantom of the Opera.

"It's definitely an iconic role, and its gong to be a lot of fun to do; I'm really looking forward to (it). But it's a big role, it's a big challenge vocally and acting wise," Murdock said."It's a very high show for singing. And being a baritone that poses a few problems, but I'm working through them, I'm working hard to get better for it, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun."

Murdock and the rest of his classmates are beginning rehearsals for the show in the new year, and they will hit the stage in March.