[personal profile] angelofmusic
Musical: The Phantom of the Opera
Production: Live via satellite
Theatre: Royal Albert Hall, London
Date: 02/10/2011

I've been a fan of musicals for a long time. By the time I was nine, I'd been in my first school production. When I was 12, I saw a show that pitched my interest headlong into fan-glee. That show was The Phantom of the Opera, at the Edinburgh Playhouse. I have since seen two productions, both in Poland (one Roma's big production and one a tiny, tiny wee production which will be mentioned again later), but never got to London or Broadway, despite visiting both London and NYC. Even just look at my journal's name. I. Like. Phantom.

So, when I found out that the 25th anniversary of my long-standing crush-show was going to be showing in my local cinema, I had to have a ticket. The good side of this is that I got to see Phantom again. The bad side is that I'm now fighting the impulse to run down to London and see it again now, kthx. But on another YAY note, I will have the DVD soon and the UK tour next year :D :D

But to the show. Exactly one year ago, I saw the Les Mis anniversary. While it was done in a similar way, with a limited amount of stage, Phantom went a step further with props, dancing, acting and the works. I did love Les Mis and the concert, but I missed physical interaction and engagement in the performances. In Phantom, we got that.

Naturally, there was a limit to what could be done on the Albert Hall stage, but all things considered, the adjustments were managed very well. There was a large projection set above the main bode of the stage and the orchestra, as well as half a dozen projection screens which could slide aside when needed.

This meant that most scene-changes were reduced to strategic projection-work, with minimal props. The only real exception to this was during the 'Phantom of the Opera' sequence, because the boat and candles have become such an iconic part of this show that you can't not have them. There was also a gantry above the stage which could be raised and lowered, to add depth to the opera house. And the Chandelier :D I might have squeaked and bounced in my seat at that. Yes. Mentally, I am still 12, when it comes to Phantom.

Unfortunately, our cinema's sound-system was a bit... not brilliant, so I suspect the orchestra sounded even more epic live. Still, they sounded amazing, and I liked the adjustments to the orchestrations. Heck, it's Phantom. I used to listen to a really, really lame 80s synth pop 'Music of the Night' and was happy :)

Now, to the cast.

Sierra Boggess as Christine - I'm well aware the Phantom is the 'star', but for me, Sierra was a revelation. I'm always a bit uncertain of Christines, because I've seen it played in so many different ways (okay, I've seen it live 3 times. I didn't say I'd not seen other productions in other... less live ways). For me, Christine treads a fine line between childish naievity, broken madness and knowing strength, and all told, she really does carry the show. Yes, the Phantom is the subject, but his victim/love has to be equally good.

I have found my perfect Christine.

Sierra's Christine had such growth as a character, and developed so much through the course of the show. Her wide-eyed innocent, playfully trying to snatch of the Phantom's mask, grew into a brave, strong woman who said goodbye in the most beautiful and heartbreaking way.

But the moment which really, really won me over, was when she's on the roof at the finale of Act I, with Raoul. That instant, when she hears the Phantom's voice and folds in on herself entirely, terrified and hiding, was wonderful. Very few Christines manage to bring across the helplessness and terror, as well as the captivation she feels, but Sierra did it spot-on.

Her voice is enchanting, and she doesn't look like it takes any effort at all. Plus, when she smiles, she simply lights up the stage. Loved her. And loved the fact she was trying to blow strands of confetti off her nose in the final big finale, after the fireworks :)

Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom - Ramin's voice is the stuff of legend. I first really heard him as Enjolras in the LesMis 25th anniversary, and was curious about his Phantom, but never got around to looking out clips or soundbytes. I'm very glad I didn't look, because the way to experience Ramin's Phantom for the first time, if not as a live audience member, was this way.

I will take my Phantoms any which way. I've heard flat-out crazy and dangerous Phantoms (Steve Barton) and I've seen emotionally-challenged, child-like Phantoms (Tomas Steciuk). I find every take interesting, just to see how each actor/director takes the role.

However, I will admit I am a Phan. Not just of the show. I've read the book (and follow-up books), I've seen every Phantom film you have heard of and then some. And it all comes down to this simple fact: Ramin Karimloo was the Phantom as I first felt he should be. The only person who ever came this close was Jakub Wocial in his tiny production in Poland. It was a similar style, even though the production had a stage the size of a bedroom and a cast of four. Amazing that you can get such a similar character developed in different countries and on such different scales.

For me, the Phantom is frightening, yes, but he's also fragile, and can crack at the least pressure. Sometimes this crack explodes as violence, but in other times, it's simple, hopeless vulnerability. He's a man who has spent his life hated, reviled, even caged as a freak. He's isolated, untrusting, more prepared for hatred than affection, and like a wounded animal, will attack when he feels under threat. And when, in the end, he's shown compassion and tenderness, the shock and wonder of it all is the thing to break him completely.

Ramin struck the balance perfectly between the artist and the madness which keeps overriding everything the Phantom does. He was sensuous, and yet shying back from it at the same time, full of desire, but uncertain what to do with it and using music as the only tool he had. In 'Music of the Night', the trembling hands, and the movements, so close to contact but not quite, added such a fragility to his Phantom.

My favourite parts of Phantom have always been Point of No Return and the reprise of the same. I love that sequence when it's done well, and normally, the Phantom is the one running the show, but in this performance, it wasn't quite the case. This was a Phantom frayed to the point of snapping, holding Christine by the throat, then horrified he was doing it. And when she told him "I gave my mind blindly", the very concept seemed to awe and bewilder him.

And when the kiss came, once more, the fragile, broken man who has never known a touch of kindness stood there, his hands trembling helplessly, uncertain what to do. At that point, I was quietly sniffling.

And then, he made them leave and sang 'Maskerade', in tears, and covered the eyes of the monkey on his music box. I was a whimpering puddle at this point. And then the pair of them made it even worse, when Christine came back to return his ring. He, by tentatively confessing his love, and her by crying as she pressed the ring back into his hand and kissed his hand, before turning away.

For a moment, a moment, when she hesitated on the stairs as she walked away from him, I almost thought she was going to stay with him. Even though it goes against everything in the musical's history. This was a Christine/Phantom combination that didn't completely destroy the love that had been there from Christine's side, and it's credit to both actors that it was so well-maintained and believable a bond.

Hadley Fraser as Raoul - Now, for the third part of the triangle. Unfortunately, because the Phantom is usually so overwhelming, Raoul does tend to be a bit of a drip by comparison. Not so in the case of Hadley Fraser. For once, we have a Raoul who is actually a strong bloke.

I hate to admit it, but Hadley's voice isn't my kind of voice. He sang well-enough, but yup. Just something about the voice that I couldn't quite like. Still, his Raoul was dashing, charismatic, and surprisingly compassionate in act 1, when he thinks his girlfriend might be going insane.

The finale of act 1, in the lead into All I Ask of You, his frustration does give way to concern and fear for Christine. Into act 2, you see the growing awareness that someone is hurting the woman he loves, and he's not going to stand for it. Of course, this leads to the Manly Posturing of MANLINESS, that results in Christine cracking in 'Twisted Every Way', and his gentleness there is such a counterpoint to his "RAR! KILL BAD PHANTOM!"

He was a fascinating Raoul, with development of character that is rare for the role, and I really wish I could have liked his voice more than I did. Of course, he still hasn't stolen the position of favourite Raoul. Steve Barton has that and I have yet to see anyone come close to stealing his post.

Kiera Duffy and Wynne Evans as Carlotta and Piangi - one word: AWESOME. It takes a lot to make you feel sorry for the pair of them, but this double-act were fantastic in both the comic moments and the moments when they were being bullied and tormented by the Phantom. Plus, they were excellent at stealing the limelight :)

Barry James and Gareth Snook as Firmin and Andre - Not going to lie. I love Gareth Snook. Have seen him live a few times, and was overjoyed to find out he would be playing one of the managers. And I am happy to announce that he didn't disappoint.

Both managers were great, but my eyes kept drifting to Gareth. I especially loved his costume during 'Maskerade'. He looked so proud of it :)

Liz Robertson as Madame Giry - Miranda Richardson was one of the few actresses in the Phantom film whom I actually liked, as her Giry was great. Liz matched her, with the authoritarian dance mistress. The moments when you saw the glimpses of her fear of the Phantom were wonderfully played, and she really stepped wonderfully well between strict and scary, and helpless and scared.

There are other minor characters floating about. I know Meg is considered major, but she's a bit on my 'meh' radar, although Daisy Maywood did a good job of making her at least a little more feisty than the usual squealing sort.

Now, though, into the finale:

There was speechifying, and the OLC production crew were brought forth. They mentioned Steve Barton and I was crying into my coat sleeve all over again. And then, out popped Sarah and Michael. I'm probably going to be controversial here, but I can cheerfully say I'm not a fan of the OLC, bar Steve. Yes, they were the first production, but Sarah was still a trainee singer and there have been so many Phantoms who are much more proficient and accomplished singers than Michael. (Plus, he destroyed Dance of the Vampires and ruined the chances of it ever having a decent English-speaking production. For this, he will be shunned)

However, they also brought out Anthony Warlow (Oz's famous Phantom), Colm Wilkinson (Original Canadian Phantom), John Owen Jones (current London) and Peter Jobeck (impending London) to perform 'Phantom of the Opera' with Sarah, and really, that was tremendous. Especially with Ramin popping up in the background.

And then, 'Music of the Night', which I think could have been awesome if they alternated one word each, but that may just be me ;) Trouble is that despite my best intentions, I kept on hearing this version of 'Music of the Night', even though the genuine lyrics were being sung right in front of me. Bad Dusty Limits, bad!

Still, I will be buying this DVD as soon I possibly can, and watching it over and over. I forgot just how much I loved this show for so many years. My desire to sing like Christine has come back all over again. And I would recommend it to anyone who wants to see The Phantom of the Opera played as it should have been played in the film. This is my perfect Phantom cast. I cannot get better than this, especially for Erik and Christine. Loved it so.
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