One of the finest theatres in the world, we were there Sunday afternoon-- via technology. (grin) The other year we saw one of the New York Metropolitan Opera in HD broadcasts with Madame Butterfly and it was glorious and well-attended at the Holland 7. This show? We had great seats along the centerline (no center aisle) in the back with plenty of legroom for my leg, along with about 40 other people.
Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary LIVE
Holland 7, Theatre 3, 2pm (7pm London), 2×$20.00
We've seen Phantom of the Opera twice -- once in Toronto in a theatre specially rebuilt just for Phantom and once at MSU's Wharton Center with a touring company. We also once saw Sarah Brightman in concert here in Grand Rapids. Phantom is a glorious musical, and though not quite as compelling a story as Les Miserables IMHO, it's full of theatre magic in both story and performance, as well as deep resonant emotions. So when we realized that a couple of movie theatres in West Michigan were doing the satellite live broadcast of the 25th Anniversary performance from the Royal Albert Hall in London, we figured we had to go.
This is also a difficult musical to cast. Carlotta, the overblown diva, was wonderfully overportrayed with great gusto -- a true delight -- and her tenor was equally good. The Mutt-and-Jeff team of the two new owners, Monsieurs Firmin and Andre, were perfectly stupidly out of their league. The Ballet Mistress Madame Giry played it much more in sympathy, if not partially in league, with the Phantom that I recall, which was very effective. And Raoul, Christine's former childhood friend and now patron and love interest was very strongly played.
But Phantom is about Christine and the Opera Ghost. Back when they were casting the movie, there was some talk of using Kate Winslet, which of course I would've applauded. No question after Titanic that she looks good in long red hair, though most people don't know how well she can sing. Well, Sierra Boggess was perfect this afternoon. She has the full range of voice from strong low to melodic sustained highs. And while we had the advantage of closeup camera work in HD, when under the Phantom's spell, this Christine managed to drain all the movement and emotion out of her face and still sing like an angel. Svengali never had it so good.
And then there was Ramin Karimloo's Phantom. Played, methinks, with more cruelty and meanness than we'd seen before. You really feel his control of his young protege. His mask was different than the ones we'd seen before. Larger and smoother, covering more of the forehead, but with a curved outward facing edge, making it easier to remove -- and also hide a second mike. The color was more platinum than white. Indeed, given its smooth impassive features and color, it reminded me so much as if Brent Spiner's Data was playing the Phantom. Or perhaps Lore. (evil grin)
This was an enormous cast -- there were probably a hundred people on stage for the masquerade and other big scenes. The sets were cleverly done. Two large broad curved staircases on both sides, the orchestra was not in the pit, but partially hidden on a bridge covering the whole width of the back of the stage, forming the top of a series of arches. From the latter they could hang screens which they could project video images -- the mirror in the dressing room, for example. And they had video projection behind the orchestra as well. Indeed, the actual audience was projected for Christine's triumphant debut curtain call so that the curtain in the rear could close over them and we were "backstage". Clever.
What was left of a thin crescent of orchestra pit I eventually saw served two functions. First, there were several video monitors so that the cast could see the conductor, who was otherwise hidden behind them on stage. Second, there were remote control HD video cameras which could move for closeups without interfering with the audience's view.
Having seen the show twice, I was a little disappointed in two bits of stagecraft. One, the chandelier, which hung over the audience in the Royal Albert Hall, was not rigged to slide down and crash on the stage, but merely blew up pyrotechnically. Second, they used thrown or wirerigged fireballs as the Phantom's means of attack or intimidation before. This performance used a hand gesture followed by flames shooting out of the floor. It was effective, I'm sure, but less so if you'd seen the previous staging. On the way home, Mrs. Dr. Phil and I figured that both of these may have had to do with accommodations for the old hall.
But that's picking nits. We had a marvelous time. It'd been some time since I've heard the whole soundtrack CD and so it was a delight to revisit all the lines and the music when done by a first-rate company.
Those people -- and there are always those people -- who got up and left while the cast took their bows wasted a big chunk of their $20 tickets. Because they brought out Andrew Lloyd Webber, who talked graciously for a couple of minutes, and then introduced the surviving cast members of the original London company. Including Sarah Brightman. Including Michael Crawford, who apparently had to race over from the Palladium Theatre. And then Andrew said that Sarah would sing for us.
But not just Sarah Brightman. Or Michael Crawford. There were FOUR former Phantoms on the stage. And later, the current Phantom, back in elegant dress and mask, came in. And they were backed up by the full casts of the original and current London casts. And later the current Christine.
It was stupendous and overblown and everything you wanted in an Andrew Lloyd Webber 25th Anniversary party. Epic along the scale of having nineteen Jean Valjeans in concert.
If you've missed this and still would like to see this production, there are encore performances at many movie theatres this week, although I'm not sure all 500-some theatres doing the live show today are doing all the rebroadcasts. And I guess in November this performance will come out in DVD and Blu-Ray. But it's not quite the same as going to the theatre -- even a movie theatre.