The guardian

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COAL CITY HIGH SCHOOL junior Griffin Johnson will take the stage as Captain Phoebus de Martin in the school’s upcoming production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Ann Gill

When the cast list for Coal City Theatre Department’s production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame was posted there was a feeling of excitement that came over Griffin Johnson.
But excitement turned to fear, because for someone used to being a part of the ensemble this is a new chapter.
Johnson is taking on his first principal role in the school’s spring musical and with time, “that fear has since gone back to excitement and I just want to be able to perform,” he said.
The Coal City High School junior will take the stage as Captain Phoebus de Martin, who returns to Paris after serving in the war. Upon his arrival in the city he takes up a new position as captain of the Cathedral Guard.
The role was one he was hoping to land, and he says a highlight of the character he plays is the vocals. Although that has been one of the challenges for him as the show has come together.
“I’ve been in pretty much a choir setting my life leading up to this role, so I’ve never really had to sing by myself so that vocal difference of singing with a bunch of people and singing by myself is something I have fond pretty challenging,” Johnson said. He’s working through that by spending extra time with the show’s vocal director, Shanan D’Agostino and singing in the shower.
Among all of the things he likes about the character, he’s not impressed by the captain’s “swagger.”
Phoebus is overconfident, yet charming, and as the character description states is one who makes the ladies swoon.
“That is not something I have. I’m not very confident in myself,” said Johnson, who notes that even though he’s not comfortable with his character’s personality traits, he’s having a fun time trying to portray that on stage.
Johnson first took the stage in fifth grade for his intermediate school’s production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
His introduction to theatre came from his older brother, Preston, who had been performing in the theatre department’s middle school productions.
“Preston had told me that theatre was like a really cool thing, so that’s what got me started,” Johnson said.
As a sixth grader he auditioned and landed a spot in the school’s production of High School Musical 2 and he’s been auditioning and landing a spot in the cast ever since.
“With theatre there is something about it that just gets you going. The whole show process you’re like we can do this and then as soon as it gets over you’re waiting till the next year for the next musical to start,” Johnson said.
As the cast comes into the final weeks of rehearsals, Johnson said the show is shaping up to be something special.
“Over the years that I’ve been in high school productions this, in my opinion, is by far the most challenging show we’ve done,” Johnson said.
The score for this show required the cast to learn additional languages including Latin, Roman and Greek and the content of the show has pushed them both physically and emotionally.
As the show plays out, Johnson hopes audiences will become involved in what’s taking place before them and take in the emotions being played out on stage.
“This might sound bad, but I hope they leave crying. I hope we touch them emotionally enough to leave here thinking a high school show just did that and made me feel this way,” he said.
Johnson encourages everyone to grab tissues and a ticket to see The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the Coal City Performing Arts Center. Shows are March 6-8 and March 13-15. Reserved seat tickets can be purchased at