The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall
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In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, Cameron Mackintosh produced a unique, spectacular staging of the musical on a scale which had never been seen before. Inspired by the original staging by Hal Prince and Gillian Lynne, this lavish, fully-staged production set in the sumptuous Victorian splendour of London’s legendary Royal Albert Hall features a cast and orchestra of over 200, plus some very special guest appearances.
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I was frightened that this might not be a staging at all, but more along the lines of a "concert in costume" much like the dissapointment I felt when I saw the Les Miserable's concert on Public TV.
Fear not. This production is pretty dead on to the staging that appears in the shows that I have watched live, and considering this was filmed "live" and simulcast, it is truly a sight to behold.
While this performance can't even compare to "being there" it is far removed than the sterile affair put on the screen by Joel Schumaker. Don't get me wrong. There is plenty of things I like about the movie, (like the spine tingling opening sequence, or the red hot sexuality of Point of No Return). But this by far is the most accurate "filming" I have seen of any ALW production.
Unlike Joseph, JC Superstar and CATS, which were "staged" recordings specifically for video, with all the "cuts" that go with it, This is a live filming that was simulcast live around the world on Oct 2, 2011 and ran on limited encore performances in movie theatres for the next few days. There are no "best performances" or "second chances". We get what was actually presented to the audience on Oct 2, and that alone is worth the price of admission.
Due to the height of the roof of the Royal Albert Hall and either logistics or safety concerns revolving around hurling a Chandalier from such a dizzying height, suffice it to say, the chandalier does not crash to the stage at the end of Act 1, nor does it "float" from the stage in it's glory during the overture. Instead, the tarp is removed during the overture, and fireworks accompany the chandeliers destruction at the end of Act 1. This is sure to be a bit of a disappointment to most Phantom fans, and if you need to experience a crashing chandalier, you will have to go to one of the live performances currently touring around the world. On the plus side there are quite a few shots of the show taken "throguh" the chandelier onto the stage below, which gives you the feeling that you are the phantom, spying at the action below from top of the chandelier. It's not as dramatic, but they did what they could and it's hard to fault them for something that was probably completely out of their control.
The production also makes extensive use of LED screens as backdrops much like was done in Love Never Dies. This can is be both effective and a bit disconcerting. One example is the backdrop of Andre and Fermin's office, which is setup to look like a wall with opera posters posted on it. From a distance, these work fine. However, some of the cameras are really close to the stage and causes this effect to pixelate greatly which takes away some of the suspension of disbelief.
The use of LED screens is also used to mimic Christines Mirror during her Angel of Music number in which Christine approaches the mirror with the Phantoms face singing in the upper right corner of the mirror. Towards the end, the screen simply slides away to review the Phantom walking towards her with the fog rolling at his feet.
Another different use of the screens is during "Notes" when the phantom is reading how Christine is to star in 'Il Muto, we see handwriting appearing as well as the phantom singing his instructions on how Christine is to be granted the role of the dutchess while Carlotta plays the pageboy. One cool effect that the LED screens provided was during the end of Think of Me, Christine faces the rear of the stage, and the actual applause from the live audience is projected on the rear screens giving the audience the feeling that they are behind Christine and their own reaction is the reaction of the "audience" who just watched her aria from Hannibal. It's hard to describe but a cool efect.
It's also fair to note that these "screens" were necessary given the sheer size of the arena, and in the vastness of the RAH, some consideration had to be made to those in the nosebleed seats, so we see some scenes where the Phantom is projected on the real wall so that the paying customer in the back can better see the action.
It's just that they lose much of their effectiveness when filmed.
Speaking of filming, the camera work is stunning. Thanks to HD and the extreme closeup we fully see the emotional range the Phantom shows at his love/hate relationship with Christine. Some might say we see too much as I was distracted by wrinkles in the Phantoms facial prostesis where it was peeling from his neckline. Proof positive that this was shot live.
The performances from the cast were spot on, and it's amazing how I find different parts of the musical which resonate with me depending on the production.
In the live stage productions I have seen, the "Phantom of The Opera/Music of the Night" sequence always sent shivers down my spine. The motion picture's rendition of "Past the Point of No Return" has a sexual tension and animal magnetism not experienced on any stage performance I have seen. The stand out number for me in this version clearly was "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again." This has never been a favorite number of mine until now. Sierra Boggess really sells that performance and my mouth was on the floor when it was over.
The Phantom in this production is also more believable. Ramin Karimloo brings out an anquished performance of a "monster" with the heart of an "artist". His makeup is not over the top but grotesque enough to give someone pause. My biggest beef about the motion picture is that no woman in her right mind would have rejected Gerard Butler's Phantom. Even with his "hideous" makeup he was way too pretty. A slight rash, a droopy eye and a swollen lip? Really? I've seen uglier people at Wal-Mart. But Karimloo's Phantom is sufficiently hideous. You sense the bravery it took Christine to kiss him in the final scene and that courage is not lost on the Phantom, which leads to his change of heart.
One suprising highlight was the role of Carlotta. In all the past performances, Carlotta was portrayed in Caricature. Nowehre is this more apparant than in Minnie Drivers over the top performance in the film. Here, Carlotta is almost a sympathetic character. She clearly fears not only the Phantom, but also the rise of this "precious little Ingenue". She clearly see's Christine as a threat to her dominance at the Opera and we see a true human side to her as portrayed by her fear when the piano starts playing by itself during the rehersal for Don Juan Triumphant. In the past Carlotta had always been a throwaway part, but in this performance it is done with an authenticity that I have never before seen.
Overall, the show is brilliant and I am ecstatic that it will be coming to DVD/Blu-Ray. Unfortunately Phantom is no longer touring in North America, so my chances to see it live require a trip to New York, or Las Vegas to see the "truncated" version. And if my children never have the opportunity to see it live, at least they can appreciate this version. While it is nowhere close to experiencing Phantom for yourself, it is definitely more authentic than the movie, and slight staging differences aside, is as accurate a staging of the original show as could be done in the venue that it was pressented.
One final bonus is the appearance on stage of the surviving Orignal London Cast including Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford. Unfortunately Michael does no singing, but we do get two numbers with Sarah and four previous phantoms. The Phantoms are outstanding, but clearly Sarah's voice lacks the punch it had 25 years ago. This is not a criticism but just a fact of growing older. It was still nice to see the original production team on stage.
While it seems I have levied quite a few criticisms in this review, it is simply there to let you know what you are getting before you buy. The performance was outstanding and much more accurate to the original show than the movie. If you are a fan of the original show, you will find plenty to like here. If you are a fan of the movie, you will see different nuances than was presented by the film.
Anyway, however you look at it. At it's core, it is still Phantom, and a mighty fine one at that. A must buy for anyone who loves this show, and anyone who has yet to see it performed on stage.