The lead actor behind APU’s production of “Phantom of the Opera” opens up about life, theater and one of his most challenging roles yet.

Forrest Gorrell has played many roles in his time as an actor, and last week I had the opportunity to sit down with “The Phantom of the Opera” lead and get to know the person behind a vast array of characters.

Gorrell was born in New York and lived in Tennessee for several years before his family moved to Southern California, where he has spent the majority of his teenage and young adult years. 

Gorrell found his start in acting in high school, where he played football but found himself drawn into theater by the people in the program. “I played football for years, but the theater people were nicer to me, so I kind of started doing that more … I would get good roles and it sounds awful, but it would boost my ego,” he said.

Gorrell’s passion for acting goes beyond an ego boost, however.

“I think I’ve always had a knack for empathizing and a want and a need to kind of bear burdens, especially burdens of other people … I want to make sure that people know that they’re not alone in the battles that they face every day. Because it could be really, really daunting sometimes when you’re going through trial after trial after trial,” he said.

Ultimately, Gorrell said his motivation and desire for acting comes back to his faith.

It’s clear the actor is passionate about his craft. He spoke of creating magical moments on stage and the privilege of getting to include a massive group of people into his personal life on stage, getting to live in a story for a bit with other people and being able to create a strong sense of community during a show or performance.

When asked about a favorite performance, Gorrell said “The Phantom of the Opera” was high on the list, but “Pirates of Penzance,” a show he did back in high school, was also a favorite of his because of the fun and goofy nature of the show.

Aside from shows he’s been in, one of Gorrell’s favorite plays of all time is “An Enemy of the People” by Henrik Ibsen. 

“The whole message is you can be in the minority in a situation and still be right. Even if the majority is saying the exact opposite. It is a really powerful play,” he said.

When asked about an all-time favorite role, Gorrell had trouble choosing just one, but said Cyrano was high on the list. Similar to many of the other roles Gorrell has had at Azusa Pacific, he said Cyrano was challenging because the character talks for a large part of the show. 

“Cyrano’s like 65% of the entire show. He’s just talking the entire time, but just doesn’t stop. And he’s just so poetic … it was like trying to find the reality in that and the truth in this verbose kind of ‘out there’ guy, but it was a lot of fun because it definitely stretched me,” he said.

Although Gorrell said he doesn’t have a dream role, he likes to play villains. In terms of his career after graduation, he’s unsure about whether he will pursue acting.

“I love it and I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing it, but I’m not the kind of person who’s going to obsess over the industry … I don’t want to sell my soul … God’s in control either way, so whatever comes my way, comes my way,” he said.

Gorrell’s experience with “Phantom of the Opera” has been a whirlwind of a season. He auditioned with a monologue and short song, and when the time for callbacks came, Gorrell showed up in a T-shirt and jeans, feeling a bit intimidated by everyone else’s formal attire. Nevertheless, Gorrell earned the role of Phantom, proving looks aren’t everything.

When Gorrell found out he received the lead role, he admitted to feeling scared at first, knowing that pressure comes with a big role. However, after many rehearsals and much practice, Gorrell said he’s having more fun and enjoying his time with the cast despite this being one of his most challenging roles.

“We have some insanely, insanely talented people in this department,” he said.

While Gorrell has had his share of stimulating roles here at APU, being a transfer student from Fullerton Junior College and working through Covid have also contributed to the demanding work he’s accomplished.

He credits his friends and castmates as the most rewarding aspect of it all, noting how the pressure of putting on a show like “Phantom of the Opera” has brought everyone together.

“With this production, since it’s so nice and it’s so big and everybody loves the show so much, I think we’re all kind of able to put a lot of crap [sic] aside and just enjoy what we’re doing. It’s kind of funny because this is probably the most intense, one of the most intense shows that I think a lot of us have done in a long time. And it’s also the most fun,” said Gorrell.

Gorrell also expressed the awe he has for his castmates that often comes up during a rehearsal. Watching his fellow performers gets him excited for the show, and it fills him with an intense gratitude to be working with such talent.

After the curtains close and Gorrell takes his bow, he hopes audience members will walk away with the encouragement to treat people that they don’t understand with kindness. Most importantly, Gorrell wants his performance to glorify God: “I hope that people cling to Jesus after the show, knowing that their identity can only come from him.

Gorrell (right) in “Cyrano De Bergerac”