“Phantom 25” is THE definitive production!

I just got back from seeing the last theatrical showing of _Phantom of the Opera: 25th Anniversary at the Royal Albert Hall_.  WOW.

Sorry, Joel Schumacher, but this IS the definitive production of “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera“.   As far as the production itself, I have one minor quibble: no “We’re ruined, Andre!  Ruined!”  Otherwise, it blew me away.

1.  My major criticism of the 2004 film is how they handle “The Point of No Return.”  If you only know the movie and/or the recordings, and you have never read the libretto, seen it on stage or watched a documentary, you might not realize that it’s not supposed to be “the Phantom” in that song.

The song is a show-within-a-show (technical term for that being “masque”) song.  They are performing the Phantom’s own opera, _Don Juan Triumphant_, per his demands, hoping to catch him when he shows up for it.  They’re *expecting* him to appear in his infamous Box 5, and they have a marksman trained on that box.

In _Don Juan Triumphant_, Don Juan, played by Ubaldo Piangi, is posing as his friend, Passarino, in order to woo his maidservant.  So the character on stage is wearing this big cloak and hood.  It’s “supposed to be” Piangi (in the show’s “reality”) playing the role of Don Juan himself posing as Passarino.  However, what the characters don’t know, and what the audience may or may not know, is that the Phantom kills Piangi between appearances and comes out dressed in the big cloak: so it’s the Phantom posing as Piangi playing Don Juan posing as Passarino.  There are multiple layers of disguise and trickery and unveiling involved: it’s brilliant.  By the end of the song, Christine realizes it’s the Phantom and removes the hood for all to see, but no one acts.  Then she rips off his white mask and shows his disfigured face to everyone, and he kidnaps her.

Of course, in the movie, there’s no disguise at all, for whatever reason, and the scene doesn’t make sense because no one bothers to shoot him.

In the live production I saw in 1994, and in the recordings, you can at least recognize that the guy singing is the Phantom and not Piangi, so you don’t understand why Christine, at least, hasn’t figured it out or why the other characters can’t at least tell it’s not Piangi.

That’s where the genius of this version comes in.  They actually cast a guy as Piangi who sounds a lot like Ramin Karimloo (albeit with an accent), and Karimloo (who originated the Phantom in _Love Never Dies_, played Raoul in an earlier production and played Msgr. Daae in a flashback in the movie, making him the only actor to play all three of the men in Christine’s life) mimicks an Italian accent for “Point of No Return.”  I was actually wondering if they were doing something different and it *was* Piangi singing.

2.  Sierra Boggess is AMAZING.  She impressed me on the _Love Never Dies_ album, but her performance here is top-notch, and it’s great that it’s preserved.  Her “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” is literally a showstopper: the audience cheer, encore style, for at least 2 minutes after she finishes.

Her acting is so good, she steals the show even she she’s not singing.

3.  Of course, at these kinds of events, it’s what happens “after” the show that’s almost as important.  I must admit some mild disappointment, here.
After the encores, Andrew Lloyd Webber came out and made a little speech.  He acknowledged some of the behind the scenes people who’d died since 1986, particularly designer Maria Bjornson.  Then he welcomes to the stage Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Charles Hart, Gillian Lynne, and somebody else, but there’s no mention of Richard Stilgoe.

Then he welcomes (most of) the surviving members of the 1986 original cast.  He pays respect to the original cast members who have died.  Then he introduces “one more person,” Michael Crawford, to much applause, joking that Crawford has run over from the London Paladium (where he is staring in “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s _The Wizard of Oz_,” which ALW is producing in the “tradition” _Sound of Music_ and _Oliver_, but, in this case, he has added music to make it a sung through music).   Apparently, to save his energy for playing the Wizard, Crawford did not sing, other than in groups.

Then his lordship starts with the infomercial “But wait, there’s more” bit, and introduces Sarah Brightman.  Then he says there’s “one more surprise” and that Sarah’s going to sing.  OK, but there’s still *one* more surprise that Andrew doesn’t introduce.

And here’s here I have to express a bit of disappointment: especially when I saw what they did, it would have been good to see Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum appear for the finale, as well as Steve Harley, who intended for the role when ALW was originally thinking of a rock opera, and he did the music video of the title song with Sarah B. in 1984.

In the absence of at least seeing those other two “Phantoms” or hearing Michael Crawford sing, they gave one more surprise who didn’t get vocal credit.

In the “show” part, the title song was done with more orchestral emphasis.  They had some electric guitar riffs in the very last part, but they downplayed the electric bass in the song.

So, after Andrew announced Sarah was going to sing and stepped aside, the electric bass started, then the organ, and then the electric guitar and drum machine for the 1984 single/2004 movie version.

Sarah started singing, and as she sang the first verse, the back doors of the stage opened, and four silouhettes walked out.  Four former Phantoms, the way they did the “Valjeans” in the two _Les Miserables_ anniversary concerts.  Three of them were not recognizable to the average person (which is why Butler or Harley would’ve been nice), BUT the most prominent of them was none other than Jean Valjean himself, Colm Wilkinson!!!  The four Phantoms alternated the second and third verses.   When it came to where the “ghostly voices” sing “He’s there, the Phantom of the Opera,” *everyone* sang: the 100 person cast of the show we just saw, plus the original cast members (and Michael), and even the writers and producers and directors.  I think the only one who wasn’t shown visibly singing was ALW.

The Four Phantoms alternated yelling “sing for me,” and then Ramin Karimloo came back over and sang the last one.

Then on the big screen behind everyone, they projected the time cover of Andrew Lloyd Webber holding the Phantom mask, and everyone singing,  “We have brought you to the seat of sweet music’s throne, to this kingdom where all must pay homage to music, music. . . . We have come here for one person and one alone: since the moment you first heard us sing, you have needed us with you to serve you to sing, all his music, his music . . . . ”
And Colm steps forward and sings, “Nighttime, sharpens. . . . ”
That time, it was the four and Karimloo, but still no singing from Michael Crawford.

I just can’t say enough how great it was.  The DVD comes out in the US in February.

I don’t know about the US, but in the UK, the weekend it opened, the live  _Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary_ was second ranked feature of *any* kind that weekend, and the highest performer on Sunday.  It was the highest grossing “alternative cinema event” ever in the UK.

The _Original London Cast Recording_ is still one of the all-time best selling albums of any kind in history, and the worldwide ticket sales for the stage production alone (much less the recordings and movie) still rank it as the highest grossing “entertainment production” in history, more than any other stage show or movie.

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