I’ve always found it funny that the poster shows an entire mask, when in reality, the Phantom always wears just half a mask to cover one side of his face.
The Phantom of the Opera is only one of the most popular and successful stage musicals of all time. And I’m only one of the biggest musicals fans of all time. And the 25th anniversary version only stars one of my favourite singers of all time. So it totally makes sense that I had never seen it in its entirety until a couple weeks ago, right?
I don’t know why I’ve put it off for so long (“Shame, shame, shame!”), but when I had a nice pile of ironing to do (joy) I finally settled down to watch the 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera (henceforth abbreviated as POTO) from start to finish. It took two sittings and eleven shirts, but I finally did it. And all I can say is… wow. Really, I was in danger of burning either myself or one of my father’s shirts from being transfixed to my computer screen. I’m not saying I loved absolutely every minute of POTO, but where it was good, it was really good.
POTO has been one of my favourite classic novels for a while, and though there are several differences, the stage production is a gorgeous adaptation. I’ve always found the Phantom to be such a complex, interesting character: a murdering, dangerous man who just wants to be accepted and loved despite his deformity. Through the lyrics and the script, the musical does a fabulous job of portraying all possible sides of the Phantom. The 25th anniversary production, starring Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess, and Hadley Fraser, is chock full of jaw-dropping talent, amazing voices, and powerhouse acting.
I cannot imagine anyone other than Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom. Nope, not even Michael Crawford. (Frankly, his voice annoys me, and don’t even get me started on Sarah Brightman.) Ramin completely embodied the role. I forgot it was Ramin Karimloo My Favourite standing there singing; instead I saw the miserable, lonely soul (which, of course, I care nothing about ;) ) of the Phantom. Ramin was everything that is the Phantom: fascinating, creepy, deceptive, charming, and dangerous. All of those reflected in his voice. When he sang “I am your angel of music, come to me, angel of music,” that sent major chills down my ever-lovin’ spine.
Sierra Boggess and Hadley Fraser were almost as impressive. Sierra Boggess was incredible as Christine. I could literally watch her change and evolve throughout the story, from a naive little girl to a self-sacrificing, compassionate woman. Not to mention she has a voice from beyond the heavens. So much so that I can forgive her few warbly bits, and she almost makes me wish I was a soprano. Hadley Fraser was good as Raoul, but I thought his acting was better than his singing (his “Brava! Brava!” made me giggle most heartedly). He definitely had a good voice, it just didn’t astound me like Ramin and Sierra (but I find it easy to overlook since he is our beloved Grantaire and equally beloved Random Army Captain). Hadley’s best moments were when he was yelling, especially during “Wandering Child” when he’s screaming at Christine to ignore the entrancing beckoning of the Phantom.
Now on to the music. *rubs hands with glee* The overture at the beginning, with the dramatic unveiling of the infamous chandelier, was more perfect than perfect. How cool would that have been to actually have been there? The ballet sequences, such as “Hannibal,” tended to bore me, and “Prima Donna” seemed to last for.ev.er. But most everything else had me as fixated to the screen as Christine was with her Angel of Music. And speaking of which, “Angel of Music” wins the award for Petie’s Current Favourite POTO Song. I immediately fell in love with the melody, but the best part is when the Phantom, Christine, and Raoul all reprise it in “Wandering Child,” another favourite of mine.
And then there’s the theme song, the scene where we fully meet the Phantom for the first time. It’s interesting how the Phantom and Christine are mutually fascinated with each other; the Phantom with Christine because he has a hope of love from another human being, and Christine with the Phantom because she sees him as the otherworldly personification of her dead father. And yet the Phantom still has a profound sense of power over Christine. He’s spent months teaching and manipulating her, so now she’s clay in his hands, and he knows it. The most chilling part of this song is the end when the Phantom commands her to sing. That’s Sierra Boggess’s shining moment right there. I didn’t think a note that high was possible, yet she hits it strong.
Now we move along to “Music of the Night” which, though a beautiful song, tends to drag after a bit. “Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh” made me laugh. “I shall not leeeeave, but hiiiiiiiide over there to obsuhhhh-eeeerrrrrvvee..” Believe it or not, I had never heard “All I Ask of You” before, at least not all of it, but it instantly skyrocketed to the top of my Best Songs Evah list. And now would be a good time to explain my position on the huge Team Phantom vs. Team Raoul debate. Are you ready for a shock? I am neither. It would obviously be a huge mistake for Christine to marry the Phantom (seriously, talk about an abusive relationship!), but I can’t make myself be Team Raoul either, though I like the guy well enough. I understand the Phantom is deranged and psychotic, but it just doesn’t seem fair that he should experience all this suffering and loneliness and misery while Raoul and Christine are over there in La-La Dreamland. Am I the only one who thinks this? I honestly get mad at Raoul when he says, “I love her! Show some compassion!” I feel the Phantom is totally justified in screaming back, “The world showed no compassion to me!” That’s one of my few Go-Phantom! moments.
“Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” took my breath away, not only because of Sierra’s amazing voice, but because of the passion and emotion she pours into this song. By the end, I was all, “I KNOW CHRISTINE I KNOW I WISH YOUR DADDY WAS HERE TOOOOOOOOO.” How it gradually transforms into “Wandering Child” is just spot-on. The Phantom suddenly appearing, disillusioning Christine into believing he’s her long-lost father figure, and Raoul pleading with Christine to rebuke the Phantom. And then the fire. THE FIRE. That was amazing.
But really, I’m just getting all my other thoughts out of the way so I can settle down and focus on Ze Absolute Best Part of This Whole Musical: “The Final Lair.” The whole musical is worth watching just for this one sequence. (Although I must admit all the people in the beginning chanting “Keep your hand at the level of your eyes!” got kind of annoying. Um, how is Raoul supposed to see where’s he going? “Christine! I shall rescue you! *SMACK* Oops. Wall there.”) The Phantom has finally lost it, dragging Christine into his home underneath the opera and trying to force her to become his wife. All the while Raoul is hot on their trail. I started crying when the Phantom sang, “I’m hunted down by everyone, met with hatred everywhere. No kind word from anyone, no compassion anywhere. Christine! Christine, why? WHY?!” and I didn’t really stop until the end. The singing is so powerful here, especially from the Phantom. He has never been loved by anyone, not even his own mother, and now he has morphed into a bitter, angry creature of darkness. “Pity comes too late! TURN AROUND! and face your fate!”
Raoul finally makes his appearance, only to be caught by the Phantom in a hangman’s noose. Christine is left with a decision: agree to marry the Phantom and save Raoul, or don’t agree and watch Raoul die. “This is the point of no retuuuuuuuurn!” The Phantom and Raoul start yelling at each other, but finally Christine’s voice breaks through, her words shooting daggers through the Phantom. Sierra Boggess nailed these lines. She sounds angry, betrayed, regretful, sad and compassionate all at once: “Angel of music, you deceived me! I gave my mind blindly!” In a menacing, yet weary tone, the Phantom hisses, “You try… my patience. Make your choice.” And then comes one of the greatest moments of any musical, movie, book, or drama. Christine slowly rises from the ground…
Pitiful creature of darkness, what kind of life have you known?
God give me courage to show you, you are not alone!
The music rises to an absolutely outstanding crescendo, and this is the part where I completely lost it. I think a few tears dropped on the shirt I was ironing. Because Christine, choosing to stay with the Phantom just to save Raoul, kisses the Phantom… twice. In all his ugliness and wickedness and despair. Showing him that he can be loved. And Raoul’s face is one of total misery as he realizes that Christine is doing what he told her not to do in the first place: “Don’t throw away your life for my sake.”
But back to the Phantom and Christine. The look on the Phantom’s face is absolutely heartbreaking. In that one moment, he realizes all the mistakes he’s made in trying to force Christine to love him. And I had the thought that Christine’s kiss might have been the first time anyone in his life had ever touched him. THINK OF THAT. With a cry of anguish, he frees Raoul and orders them to leave. And this right here is Ramin Karimloo’s best moment in the whole show; screaming at Raoul and Christine to leave him, forget him, to never tell anyone about him, “Swear to me never to tell… the secrets you know… of this angel in hell!!”
Pardon me while I wail. There was so much sheer anguish and torment in that scream. Brava, Ramin Karimloo. But my tears cannot stop yet. Because when Christine comes back to return his ring, all the facades are stripped away. The bitterness is gone for a moment. And there sits the shunned soul of the Phantom, a little boy rejected by his own mother, a desperate soul who just needs love. And he whispers, “Christine, I love you.” She cries. And so do I. Some more.
Honestly, the ending lines from POTO rival even that of Les Mis. Broken and lost and destined to live alone because of his mistakes, the Phantom cries,
“You alone can make my song take flight!
It’s over now – the music of the night!”
Watching the 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera was well worth the time and tears. Like I said, I didn’t love every single minute of it, but I would so watch it again. I’ve already bought the soundtrack (which is practically the whole thing in audio form) and have been listening to it nigh every day. The songs are gripping, the story is riveting, and the music will leave you utterly breathless.