The Phantom of the Opera

| February 6, 2012

There are two kinds of musical theater enthusiasts in the world: those who like Stephen Sondheim, and those who like Andrew Lloyd Webber.
I LOVE Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Lambasted by musical snobs for his repetitive themes and simplistic melodies, Mr. Lloyd Webber has been a much controversial figure. His followers are devout. His haters are many. But say what you will, the success of his perhaps most prolific musical The Phantom of the Opera is nothing short of monolithic. Since its opening on Broadway in 1987, respectively, it has played more performances on Broadway than any other musical in history.
The 2nd longest running Broadway musical is CATS. Guess who also wrote that one?
Most people have probably seen Phantom in one or other of its incarnations. Between the movie of a few years ago, the touring company, the productions running in London, New York, Germany, Argentina, etc…. this is a show that has a life of its own. Mr. Lloyd Webber pioneered the art of the pop musical, and was a smart businessman on top of being a creative personality. It was his idea to release singles from his show on the London pop charts before the show was open, in order to stir up excitement and early ticket sales.
It worked.
Phantom made huge stars out of its original performers, Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford (don’t worry, they show up in the 25th Anniversary), and has since provided jobs for probably most working actors at one point or another. Say what you will about the show, it is probably the biggest ticket-selling machine in musical theater history, and most producers probably wish they had a piece of it.
So, the scene is set: for the 25th anniversary of the musical, Cameron Mackintosh, the show’s producer, took a few of his dollars and decided to stage the full musical at Royal Albert Hall in London. Think if the Beatles were all living and decided to reunite at Carnegie Hall for one night, play all the songs from all their albums, and broadcast the thing around the world. It’s pretty much like that. An epic, rock concert atmosphere for a very complicated and epic show. With a cast of about 135 according to the special features, the tiny stage at the Royal Albert seems about ready to cave in at certain points. It must be said, it’s a little unnecessary. Anyone going to see the show at a real theater with a cast of about 40 is not going to suffer from lack of crowd- the actual theater sets are enormous.
Because they couldn’t recreate the original design in that space, a few great things are lost. Most especially the bone-chilling moment at the end of the first act when the chandelier comes crashing down to the stage. Anyone who has sat through that moment in London or on Broadway will miss it dearly.
But, the show is not completely destroyed. Indeed, there are moments when the projections and stage effects are used beautifully. On the whole, though, it is a very different kind of spectacle than the original stage show. This isn’t the one to see first, it’s the one to collect and keep.
It must be said, the Blu-Ray does wonders. The clarity of sound and picture bring what is already a pretty exciting and electrifying event into full force, and if you have a TV big enough… you’ll be on the edge of your seat.
Probably the best thing about the magnitude of the show is its orchestra. Bigger than any that could fit into a small theater orchestra pit, stocked with every instrument from harp to harpsichord, the music has never sounded so majestic or swelled so high. However, it must be said, that does give the singers a lot to… sing over, as it were. And creates some more unfortunate results with the show’s two soprano stars, Christine and Carlotta. High notes pushed that loud rarely escape in tune.
The Carlotta, Keira Duffy, is unfortunately lacking. A disappointment as an actress, she doesn’t bring anything new to the singing we haven’t already heard from a myriad of cast recordings or live performances, and lacks any comedic timing, another essential element to the role.
There really isn’t much to say about anyone in the minor character category. The comedy that does exist if the actors are skilled enough, is completely missing. Monsieur Firmin and Monsieur Andre are dull and lifeless, and a distraction from the plot, and the Monsieur Piangi has several of his big solos and funny moments taken away from him and distributed to other male chorus members, a strange and mysterious choice.
The Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, is played by Hadley Fraser, and his performance is acceptable, though nothing to scream at. Handsome and with a clean baritone, he does not excite the senses, though he does no disservice to the role.
Christine is played by Sierra Boggess, who did the production in Vegas for a long time, also played Ariel the little mermaid on Broadway, and after seeing her in this, it is impossible to imagine her in fins and roller skates. She is a graceful, beautiful Christine, and brings a playful youth to the role I’d never seen before (though I must admit, I can’t attest to the age of the usual soprano who plays the role on stage). Her soprano is sweet and 99 percent perfect. But her misses are huge, and unfortunately, her performance of “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”, Christine’s big second act song, is completely over the top. But still, in all, she is a very good Christine. Much better than Emmy Rossum, at any rate.
The title role is played by Ramin Karimloo, and he is simply too young to be an effective phantom. Nothing can be said against his singing voice, it is fantastic and he brings a clear, clean tone to all the Phantom’s songs. But the gravitas that might be supplied by an older, more experienced actor is clearly missing. One of the cruxes of the show’s plot is the confusion Christine experiences over the Phantom’s identity; she cannot decide if he is her father’s ghost or an angel of music sent to look after her by her father. In this production it looks as though she might be experiencing difficulty from a ghostly older brother.
The pros and cons aside, this is not a production to look down on. It is well-sung (mostly), well-acted (mostly), and well-executed (mostly). And more impressive still is the fact learned on the special features that it was all put together in ten days. With how little sleep the lead actors must have gotten, they look fresh as daisies and sing just as well, a huge feat.
The special features are slim; a trailer for the Blu-Ray release of the musical sequel of Phantom, Love Never Dies (I hope I get a chance to review that one, too!) and a featurette about the behind the scenes. It is brief but interesting. Not worth buying for those two things but if you want a chance to see the show live in its entirety, this is pretty much your only option.

About the Author:

Heather Trow is a nursing assistant and part-time writer. When she is not writing, she is listening to the popular podcast "NEVER NOT FUNNY". Actually, at any given time, most likely, she is listening to the podcast. It's pretty much all she does besides work. It is her favorite thing.
Filed in: Video and DVD

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