‘Julie and the Phantoms’ scares up musical fun for Netflix

Rick's Reviews

A young musician deals with a ghostly trio in Netflix series “Julie and the Phantoms.” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

(KGET) — The advertising line for the new Netflix series, “Julie and the Phantoms” should be “I hear dead people.” That’s because Julie (Madison Reyes), a high school student who lost her passion for music after her mom died a year ago, is suddenly sharing a music studio with three dead musicians from the band Sunset Curve.

The three ghosts (Charlie Gillespie, Jeremy Shada, Owen Patrick Joyner) died in 1995 after a bad dining experience. They suddenly appear in Julie’s mom’s old music studio and that triggers a new musical awakening for the living member of the group.

Sunset Curve was on the verge of becoming more than a bar band when they died. They might be ghosts but they still have the drive to become famous. As their friendship with Julie grows, the boys convince her to create a new band together: Julie and the Phantoms.

The series comes from Emmy Award-winning director Kenny Ortega, the man behind such tween hits as “High School Musical” and “Descendants.”

“What excited me about being a part of this project was the endless boundaries, opportunity to really explore the heart, the fun, surprise, magic; a real-girl story and what would happen if suddenly three gorgeous ghosts popped into your life.  So for me, heart, romance, good humor, all of that was important,” Ortega says.

The producer has put together enough productions featuring young actors that he knew there were two necessary components if “Julie and the Phantoms” was going to work. He had to find a young girl that all girls could relate to and actors in the band who could act and handle the music.

For the first part of the formula, 16-year-old Madison Reyes was cast after an extensive search. The New York native had the musical skills needed plus had chemistry with the actors playing the band members during the auditions.

The fact “Julie and the Phantoms” deals with so much music was a real plus for Reyes. The acting newcomer, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, was also motivated to land the role to become a positive role model.

“I’ve always enjoyed just anything that has to do with being creative and just expressing myself through music, and singing, and stuff like that,” Reyes says. “I definitely push myself to follow my dream more just for my family and also, for my little sister.  I really wanted her to have someone that she could look up to that looked like her, that she could have a connection with, whether it be my ethnicity or a person’s curly hair or just how they look.

“It was definitely more about just making sure that my sister had somebody that she could look up to, so she can also follow her dreams, you know?  I wanted to be that role model for her, so that definitely is what motivated me to follow my dreams.”

Reyes quickly learned that being part of the project meant a lot of hard work. Not only was she required to act and sing but there are big dance numbers that meant hours working with a choreographer. At the same time, she had to find time to deal with school work.

Along with the casting of Reyes as Julie, it was equally important to find the right performers to play the band members. Ortega calls finding the three actors to fill the shoes of the phantoms one of the most extraordinary moments he has ever had in the casting process.

That’s high praise considering the cast of “High School Musical” included Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale.

The three actors selected to play the Phantoms spent six weeks in a band boot camp learning all of the songs that would be performed in the series. They also had separate piano, guitar, bass, drums and vocal lessons. Not only did the band members learn the musical aspects of the job but they also got to bond.

Jeremy Shada says, “For a month-and-a-half, doing all this with each other, you become a real band, and you really become close friends and a close family.  It was also so much fun. Sometimes work is a lot, but this didn’t feel like work.  It felt like we’re getting paid to do stuff that we would have dreamt of doing and with the coolest, awesome family that you could possibly have.”

“Julie and the Phantoms” launches Sept. 10 on the streaming service Netflix.

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