Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Phantom of the Opera" 25th Anniversary at the Royal Albert Hall

October 13, 2011

We all know that the "Phantom of the Opera" is by far one of the best known and best loved musicals of the past years. It is quite amazing to learn that this year is already the 25th year of this acclaimed piece of musical theater based on the novel by Gaston Leroux. The beautiful music was by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with most of the lyrics by Charles Hart, and produced by Cameron Macintosh. It debuted in the West End in London in 1986. Phantom is recognized as the highest-grossing entertainment event of all time and the most financially successful theatrical show in history.

Last week, it was suddenly announced that the special 25th Anniversary performance held at the Royal Albert Hall last October 2-3, 2011 was actually going to be shown in local theaters! I knew that my wife and I had to see it again. This morning, I was surprised to learn that this will be a 3 hour and 41 minute movie. This caused problems in our schedule but we still decided to push through and watch. An opportunity to watch a theater event such as this on the big screen was indeed rare.

As we entered, we found out the reason for the very long running time. Before the show proper, there was first a short documentary about Phantom by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. Here we got to hear how the idea of doing Phantom came about, and meet the original London production crew. This lasted about 15 minutes. After which there were ads announcing the sale of DVDs of this event come March next year. I guess we still have to wait that long to get an original copy of this special. Then there was about another 5 minute pause (as if waiting for the audience to fill up) before the show itself actually began. I see that this film was going to approximate a real theater presentation. Unfortunately, this also included a real 20 minute Intermission after Act 1. The theater (we watched in SM Megamall) actually paused the movie for the whole 20 minutes! So be warned. 

The Phantom was played by Ramin Karimloo, while his ingenue Christine Daae was played by Sierra Boggess. I knew these were the same actors who played these same characters in the short-lived sequel of Phantom called "Love Never Dies." Ms. Boggess was beautiful as Christine channeling both innocence and sensuousness. Her soprano was flawless even in the most challenging and punishing notes in "Think of Me," "Phantom of the Opera," and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again." As the Phantom, Mr. Karimloo has got that X-factor that makes the role dangerous yet riveting and sympathetic. His voice can navigate the highs and lows that makes Mr. Lloyd Webber a musical sadist. It can be strong, yet tender and also menacing. His "Music of the Night" and "Point of No Return" were fantastic!

The supporting performances were also very strong. Hadley Fraser cuts a dashing figure as Raoul. His featured duet with Christine, "All I Ask of You," was very well sung. Kiera Duffy makes a hilarious Madame Carlotta even as she also hit those unbelievable high notes, in songs like "Primadonna." Liz Robertson makes a very imposing Madame Giry with her severe black gown always in sharp contrast with the very bright colors of the costumes around her. Everything was so expertly staged: the dancing, the costumes, the set pieces, the make-up, the video backgrounds, were all so rich, elaborate and detailed. The camera work and direction was also very effective in conveying the drama, danger and romance of the story.

After the last scene where Meg Giry holds up the Phantom's mask after he vanishes, there was a very long curtain call. The whole stage was filled with actors and dancers. It was a very emotional moment. However, after the three main characters made their bows, it was not yet over. Sir Andrew himself took center stage and thanked the audience and his crew, present and past. Then he introduced the man who played the first Phantom, Michael Crawford! Finally he brought out his "Angel of Music", Ms. Sarah Brightman (who was looking very hefty indeed nowadays). 

The surprise did not end there, Ms. Brightman obliged to sing! Of course, she sang "Phantom of the Opera." I would not say it was her best because her breathing was audible, but she could still hit those killer notes at the end. Another surprise was when it was the Phantom's turn to sing, four actors who played the Phantom before came out on stage to sing with Ms. Brightman. Of the four, I recognized two: Colm Wilkinson (Jean Valjean from Les Miz) and the fantastic Anthony Warlow! The other guy was John Owen Jones (the current Phantom in London). The youngest guy of the four Phantoms, Peter Joback (upcoming Phantom in the 2012 run in London), had a rather thin and nasal pop voice, in sharp contrast with the booming tenors of the other three. Too bad, Michael Crawford did not sing a note. After this, the four ex-Phantoms all took turns to sing "Music of the Night." This was another beautiful rendition of the song. At the end, the present Phantom, Ramin Kaminloo also joined the group. Another curtain call followed, and the event comes to an end.

This is definitely a must-watch for fans of Phantom, as well as fans of Musical Theater in general. When time comes for the DVD to come out, that should also be a must-own in his DVD collection.

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