Monday, January 2, 2012

My Review of the 25th Anniversary of Phantom

Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary (2011)

Anybody who knows me knows that I absolutely adore musicals, both those of stage and screen. They are the only type of songs that I listen to and really like (with a few rare exceptions of popular music), and they dominate 95% of my MP3 player. One of my favourite musicals is The Phantom of the Opera, one of the most popular and iconic musicals of all time. When I heard it was celebrating its 25th anniversary on the West End, I was overjoyed, and my joy only increased with news of the cast. Since I have no means to travel to London to see it live, I waited several months for it to pop up online, and may I say, I was amazed. I finished watching this feeling how I felt after watching the 25th anniversary of Les Miserables and even though this is not a movie, I'd put it high on my list of the best of 2011. This was a perfect show, absolutely nothing wrong with it, plain and simple. I will say that this is going to be a different type of review, because a lot of it will be me fangirling and it is a review for a production, not a film. It will also be pretty much a play-by-play of the story discussing things such as the songs along the way, so a spoiler warning is in effect.

The story of The Phantom of the Opera (hereafter known as Phantom) is an iconic one, about a disfigured man living under a Paris opera house who happens to be madly in love with a young opera star. That summation is merely the cliff-note version, there is much more detail in the story itself. It starts out at an auction at the dilapidated Opera Populaire. An old man later identified as the Vicomte de Chagny purchases a music box that looks like a monkey (both he and the music box will come into play later). Upon the auctioning of the chandelier does the opera house transform back into its former glory as we flash back about twenty or thirty years in the past.
The Opera Populaire is in its heyday, and we see a rehearsal for the company's current opera. This is where we meet some of the secondary characters such as Carlotta (Kira Duffy), Piangi (Wynne Evans), Madame Giry (Liz Robertson), and Giry's daughter Meg (Daisy Maywood). Carlotta is the company's ageing leading soprano and has been for nineteen seasons prior to the events of the play. When one looks at Carlotta, one sees the women commonly associated with opera. You know, the large woman in the valkyrie helmet with a voice that shatters glass. Carlotta is also a class-A diva, and though she is generally adored by audiences, there seems to be a mysterious presence in the theatre that dislikes her, causing accidents any time she is on stage.

We are then introduced to the two new managers of the opera house, Andre and Firmin (Barry James and Gareth Snook). After a set piece nearly falls on Carlotta, she flies into a rage and runs out of the theatre, saying that she resigns. Since there is no understudy, the two managers worry that they will have to refund a full house. Luckily, a young chorus girl named Christine Daae (the phenomenal Sierra Boggess) rises to the occasion. Christine is our female lead and one of three of the main characters. She is a young soprano who has been receiving lessons from an invisible tutor since her father died. Christine performs in Carlotta's place and knocks it out of the park, receiving praise for her performance and she is marked as an up-and-coming opera star.

(a link to a video recording of the mirror scene)

It is back in her dressing room where her tutor (whom she has dubbed the "Angel of Music", who she thinks her father has sent down from heaven to guide her) praises her from the shadows and she is reunited with her childhood sweetheart, Raoul (also known as the old man from the opening). When Raoul departs after inviting Christine to dinner, she is entranced by her tutor (hereafter known as the Phantom) into the secret passage behind her mirror. This brings up something creepy having to do with the Phantom/Christine relationship. We don't know if Christine knows about the passage, but one would assume she doesn't. Which brings to mind the question of what he used that passage for before Christine goes through the mirror. One can assume that he's watched her undress at least once.

What follows is Christine being taken into the Phantom's lair via the musical's titular song, which contains one of the most memorable and well-known tunes of all time. The song is followed by the second most well-known song, which happens to be one of the sexiest songs ever sung. This song is entitled "Music of the Night", where the Phantom seduces Christine into a trance and later sleep. These two songs make excellent companion pieces, as they are both about seduction and they both explain the relationship between Christine and the Phantom. They are both simmering with sex appeal and in the hands of the right actor, they can be downright extraordinary (like in the hands of Ramin Karimloo, the actor in this production and my personal favourite of the men that I have heard sing the part of Phantom).
Christine in the Phantom's lair
Christine does return from the Phantom's lair, and the managers receive a series of notes from the Phantom regarding their next show. The Phantom demands money from the managers, and demands that box 5 in the theatre be kept empty for his own personal use. The original owner of the opera house was happy to comply, but these managers are resistant, setting up their status as the main idiots of the play. Chaos ensues when Raoul storms in with a note of his own, saying "Do not fear for Miss Daae, the angel of music has her under his wing. Make no attempt to see her again". Naturally, Raoul is furious and things only get worse when Carlotta storms in with a note of her own, threatening a great misfortune should she attempt to sing in Christine's place. The last note received states the Phantom's plan for the next show. Namely, that Christine will sing the lead role with Carlotta being relegated to the silent role of the pageboy.


They decide to ignore the Phantom's demands, but this proves to be fatal as a stagehand (who was previously making fun of him) is hanged and dropped onstage. Absolutely terrified, Christine retreats to the roof, being followed by Raoul. The song that follows is one of my favourite songs from the musical, entitled "All I Ask of You". This is Raoul's song to Christine, a declaration of love much like "Music of the Night", except whereas Music of the Night is supposed to be sultry and seductive, All I Ask of You is supposed to be sweet and comforting and it works on that level, making for an effective song. However, the Phantom overhears this and sings one of the most heartbreaking and yet epic things ever, declaring that they will curse the day they did not obey him.
After the intermission, we see that the Phantom has not bothered the opera house for several months, and there is a masked ball going on to celebrate that fact. We also learn that Raoul and Christine have become engaged in secret. There is plenty of fun going on at the party (including one of the play's most elaborate numbers, at least in terms of costuming), but the Phantom has to go and spoil it with his grand entrance explaining why he has been gone. The Phantom has been biding his time and has written an opera, in which Christine will play the lead. Instead of being idiotic and ignoring his demands, they decide to perform the opera but use it to trap the Phantom. Christine does not want any part in this plot but she is forced into it against their will.

"Masquerade", one of the play's key scenes at the very beginning of Act II

The performance of Don Juan Triumphant (the Phantom's opera) sets the stage (pun most definitely intended) for the play's lengthy climax. After making a passionate plea to Christine and giving her the ring that I noticed he was wearing earlier in the play, she unmasks him for the entire theatre to see. I'll get to the stage makeup later, but let's wrap up the plot. It all goes down in one final scene which is where, I admit it, I tear up. The ending is utterly heartbreaking, and the fact that the ending of this particular production is so heartbreaking really speaks to the talents of the three main actors.
In the ending, the Phantom presents Christine with an ultimatum. Either she marries the Phantom and thus saves Raoul's life (the Phantom has him hung by the neck, not enough to kill him but just enough to easily do so if Christine refuses), or refuses him and he kills Raoul, leaving her entirely alone in the world. This can be seen as the ultimate act of desperation and despair on the part of the Phantom, and the fact that he doesn't get the girl at the end (like Quasimodo in Hunchback) has elevated him to the status of a god amongst the fangirls.

The Phantom is easily the most well-liked character from the musical, and it is not that hard to see why. He may be insane, but he is insane out of love for Christine because she is the only human connection he has forged, and that connection isn't even real. His simple motivations are that he wants to be normal and that he wants to be loved, and those are motivations that most people can relate to. He thinks he can get that with Christine, and when she begins to grow frightened of him and seeks comfort in the arms of Raoul, the feelings of betrayal and hurt that we see are very real. His attempts to win her love grow more and more desperate, culminating in his ultimatum in the final lair. All he wanted was to be loved like I said, and when Christine shows him one smidgeon of compassion, he is kind of willing to let her go, although it absolutely breaks his (and the audience's) heart. This is a classic stalker story, a genuinely well-meaning and loving stalker, but still a stalker, and that's why given the choice, I would choose Raoul (who gets an unfair amount of hatred from the fanbase because the Phantom gets so much love), although I adore them both.

Raoul may get unfairly branded "safe", and like I said, he gets a disproportionate amount of hatred from the Phantom's fangirls, but he is clearly the better choice. He will not try to kill Christine if she refuses him, he does not stalk her, and most importantly, he seems to be mentally stable, making for better husband material than the Phantom. We see the admirable lengths he will go to to protect Christine, and his proclamation of love for Christine may not be sultry and seductive like the Phantom, but it doesn't need to be. It is tender and sweet, which is what the relationship between him and Christine is supposed to be. It is the core love triangle that makes the play so interesting, and it is one of the few love triangles where you could see her end up with either, although whichever one you hope she will end up with is up to you.

Christine is the last of the main characters, the Archie in the Betty/Veronica love triangle. She is an interesting and sympathetic, albeit naive, heroine and although I prefer The Phantom and Raoul, there is no denying that she is the centre of the story. Her relationship with the Phantom is interesting. First she likens him to an angel, sent from heaven by her deceased father, but her opinion of him certainly worsens over the course of the film as he turns more....for lack of a better word....stalker-y. Despite this, she still loves him and pities him, as is evidenced by the kiss at the end, which motivates the Phantom enough to let her go and be happy with Raoul, despite it driving him into further despair . Which reminds me, the look on Raoul's face as he watches his fiancee passionately kiss another man rivals that of the Phantom's at the end of the first act. What makes her so interesting is her inability to resist the Phantom, the best and worst thing that ever happened to her, and her naivete (her fatal flaw, if you will).

Be warned, this next couple of the paragraphs will pretty much be solely dedicated to my fangirling, because I will be talking about the actors. First on the list is an actor by the name of Ramin Karimloo, who played the Phantom. He has played the character several times before. He was the youngest man to do so in fact. I also happen to have a massive teenage fangirl crush on him. I first saw him as Enjolras in the 25th anniversary of Les Miserables, and I have to say that he is equally sexy in both parts, although he is allowed to be his gorgeous self in Les Mis whereas he is supposed to be physically ugly in Phantom. He still exudes the sex appeal that is crucial to the character though, and he is my favourite incarnation of the Phantom to date. Now that I've finished talking about his looks, I suppose I should talk about the fact that he is an extremely talented actor as well.

Ramin Karimloo as his normal self. It would take a lot of stage makeup to ugly him up. Oh, and DAMN

One of the reasons why he is my favourite Phantom is the sheer power of his performance. One of the reasons I teared up at the ending was because his performance was so heartbreaking.Before I talk about his singing, I'd like to talk about the stage makeup for the character. As opposed to the mild acne condition that Gerard Butler had in the movie, the Phantom has a genuine disfigurement as shown by the creative stage makeup, which includes partially exposed cranium, a partially caved in left cheek, and a giant swollen lower lip. But with the mask (and even without), the handsome side of his face still shines through. Ramin is also a phenomenal singer no matter what he is in, and he has one of those voices that can be high and soothing and yet low and passionate. Both styles of singing work extremely well for both sides of the Phantom. Both voices are extremely pleasurable to listen to and even if you don't end up watching this, I still recommend looking him up. I was extremely excited when I found out the role he was playing after this was Jean Valjean, because after hearing him in so many different roles, it is evident that he can do anything. However, he will likely be remembered for being one of the best Phantoms, especially considering that this is the last time he will ever play the role.

Hadley Fraser in costume as Raoul. All I have to say is  DOUBLE DAMN
Moving on to the second man in this play that I have a massive teenage fangirl crush on. The actor who plays Raoul is an actor by the name of Hadley Fraser, and his talent equals that of Ramin. He has a more traditionally operatic voice as opposed to Ramin, and his voice suits the character brilliantly. He is also a tremendous actor, and he embodied the character of Raoul (all I have described in the prior paragraphs) amazingly. One thing that I noticed about his performance was that whenever he yelled in character, I could see shades of his equally brilliant performance as Inspector Javert (which he is currently playing opposite Ramin's Jean Valjean) shine through. I could not pick which voice I like better, because they both have entirely different voices. Ramin is a tenor and Hadley is a bass, and those two voices are like different flavours of ice cream. They are certainly different, but they are both equally likeable and equally pleasurable to listen to. I suggest looking him up as well, especially for his rendition of "All I Ask of You", as well as "Stars" and "Javert's Suicide" from Les Mis.

The last actress that I would like to talk about is Sierra Boggess as Christine. The only role I had known her from prior to this was her turn as Ariel in The Little Mermaid on Broadway. She was great as Ariel, but she is phenomenal as Christine. There is a fully functional video on youtube of her singing "Think of Me" (Christine's first song) and I suggest you look it up, because her rendition is the best I have ever heard. She is a phenomenal soprano, and has a very sweet voice while also quite operatic (not unlike Hadley, as I priorly mentioned). Special props are reserved for her acting during "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" (a song she sings at her father's grave) and "Music of the Night" (where she captures the hypnotized Christine perfectly). She is also great in the finale, and when she adds insult to injury to the Phantom by giving the ring back, you can tell that she is absolutely heartbroken in doing so. She is probably my favourite female actress on the West End at the moment, and she knocks it out of the park as Christine, making for a trio of fine performances.

Overall, The Phantom of the Opera is a brilliant musical and my favourite love story of all time, and the 25th anniversary production is absolutely brilliant. It features fine acting (including those I did not mention) especially from the three leads, and it also features the brilliant songs that have become so iconic over the years for a reason (my favourite being Music of the Night followed by All I Ask of You). I hope that Phantom sees another 25 glorious years on the stage, and I hope that I will be able to travel to London to see the 50th anniversary (if they don't celebrate an anniversary before that). Those who are fans of musicals will definitely like this, and even for those who are uninterested, I do recommend checking out the soundtrack. Overall, I love this production, and it is one that I want to own on DVD when it comes to Canada in March. Below are several links to what I suggested you look up.
(Ramin Karimloo singing the most passionate version of Music of the Night that I have ever heard)


  1. Where did you find it online?


    This is the link I used. It's megavideo and thus comes with the limitations of megavideo, but there's no downloading and good video quality. Hope you enjoy it!

  3. Thank you so much!! It was awesome!