Thursday, September 26, 2013

Celebrate Musicals Week: The Original Cast Recording (1986)

With all the fuss I'm making this week over Phantom of the Opera, particularly my favorite version (25th anniversary), it seems only fair that I spend at least a little time talking about the show that got it all started.  So this is a review of sorts for the Original Cast Recording (also known as the Original London Cast), featuring the singers who created the iconic roles: Michael Crawford, Sarah Brightman and Steve Barton.

First of all, I want to stress that though I am really not much of a fan of Sarah Brightman or Steve Barton, I don't wish to offend anyone who is.  Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and though my opinion may not be the same as yours, I respect yours and am quite interested to hear it if you care to leave a comment.  I will also do my utmost to state it without being rude or snarky.

Well... not too snarky.

I do have to have a little bit of snark, y'know.  Just a little.  A tidbit.  We'll make a deal.  I'll use as much snark as Sarah Brightman uses emotion, okay?

...Drat.  I don't like being severely limited.

AHEM.  Let's get on with this.

Michael Crawford created the role of the Phantom, and for many people he is THE Phantom.  I have to be really careful what I say about him on here, because if I bash him even the tiniest bit, a certain friend of mine-- who keeps a picture of MC in her refrigerator but shall remain nameless for the sake of her (and her refrigerator's) privacy-- will be Very Angry with me.  

However, I'm not inclined at all to bash Michael Crawford.  He might not be my favorite Phantom (we're Ramin Karimloo fans all the way around here) but he still has a fabulous voice.  It's just the right blend of creepy and caressing, very gentle yet very powerful.  (My sister-- who shall remain nameless for her own safety-- doesn't like it at all.  She says he sounds scary.  I maintain that he's SUPPOSED to sound scary at least part of the time, and when he's not sounding scary he's sounding beautiful.  We... er...  disagree on the subject.)  I love the way he makes everything he sings sound so effortless-- it's like he's just floating on the music.  Even during the angry parts, his voice manages to soar so smoothly.  It gives me chills (the good kind).  Michael Crawford might not be quite the same vocal powerhouse as Ramin Karimloo (not so big and bold and rich), but his Phantom was the first, after all, and he set the bar for every performer that came after him.   I'm not saying that the first person in a role is necessarily the best.  I'm just saying he set the standard, and if he hadn't made the part so great in the first place, POTO would never be the success it is today.

Sarah Brightman, on the other hand... sigh.  My feelings are mixed.  She really does have a good voice, and some of her high notes are perfectly lovely.  But she doesn't put any emotion whatsoever into her singing, and what I've seen of her acting seems wooden and weird.  If we're going to talk about scariness in POTO, then we should talk about Sarah Brightman, not Michael Crawford.  Her face is pretty much perfectly expressionless, except when she's staring into your soul, when she looks like an evil doll come to life or something.

...Oops.  Overdoing the snark there.

At any rate, I really do like her voice in some parts, from a technical standpoint, (and she CAN be really beautiful when she's not making weird faces-- see picture above) but overall she is definitely my least favorite Christine.  Even Emmy Rossum put a little more oomph into the part as far as acting went.  (More on Emmy Rossum tomorrow.  You didn't think I was skipping over the 2004 movie during this week, did you?)

Steve Barton as Raoul also has a technically good voice, but his performance comes across as stilted and completely devoid of feeling.  Now, I've never seen any videos of him as Raoul, and I'm well aware that you can't necessarily judge an actor just by how they perform on a cast album.  That said, I firmly believe that a truly good performer in musical theatre has to be able to act with his voice as well as with his face and body.  I mean, hello, that's what it's all ABOUT-- telling a story through music.  This is why I'm such a huge fan of the Les Mis TAC--  the actors/singers in that production did such a phenomenal job of telling the story so beautifully and richly with very minimal opportunities to act outside of their singing as they did so.

Am I the only one who thinks we need a good, all-encompassing word that describes people who sing and act in musical theatre?  Some sort of combination of "singers" and "actors," maybe-- but "sictors" doesn't sound good at all, and "angers" is worse.  Suggestions?

All right, now, let's have a look at a few (not all, we haven't got unlimited time here) of the songs on this album.  "Think of Me" is really beautifully done-- I like Sarah Brightman's cadenza at the end, and her voice is very pristine and perfect throughout.  No expression, of course, but we covered that already.  Storyline aside, it's nice to listen to.  However, Raoul's part kinda drives me nuts.  You can see the original lyrics in the picture above, and I for one am SO glad they've changed them since then.  (Of course, the joke goes that Andrew Lloyd Webber changes the "Think of Me" lyrics every time he changes his socks, but still...)  It's not exactly nice to meet your best friend from childhood after a lapse of ten years or whatever and let the first thing out of your mouth be something about what a gawkish girl she was.  Really, Raoul?  Really?  Compliment her poise now all you like, but don't make rude remarks about what she used to be.

And no, that's not Steve Barton in the picture above-- it's Michael Ball, because I liked the picture and didn't care that the original Raoul wasn't in it... wait, what am I saying?  Am I apologizing for having a picture of Michael Ball as Raoul on my blog???

Obviously I didn't get enough sleep last night.

Here you can see "Phantom of the Opera" and "Music of the Night" performed by Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman at the 1988 Tony Awards (and yep, that's Angela Lansbury introducing them!).  It's really poor quality, I'm afraid, but was the best I could find on YouTube-- there's a higher-quality video out there, but the sound and picture don't match up.  I really like MC's performance of "Music of the Night" here, but Sarah Brightman's zombie-like movements and strange grinning during the  "I Remember" snippet are kind of freaking me out.  Thoughts, anyone?

"Notes" has to be one of my favorite tracks on this album.  Sadly, I don't have a picture of John Salvident and David Firth hamming it up, so take this nice image from "Angel of Music" instead.  This version was my first introduction to the song (I heard it on Pandora one day and became hooked), and I had no idea that POTO could actually be... funny.  I promptly fell in love with the number and still snicker over certain favorite lines.  "Andre, please don't SHOUT."  Oh, and my sister Anne-girl and I are quite good at this song, if I do say so myself.  She's Firmin.  I'm Andre.  It almost never changes.  :D And then I'm Carlotta and she's Raoul.  We do it all very dramatically.

Sarah Brightman and Steve Barton do a fabulous job with "All I Ask of You," and it's really beautiful to listen to... but you know what I'm going to say by now, don't you?  There's nothing truly memorable about it.  It's just a song.  It's lovely, yes, but there's no feeling in the words, and frankly I think Sarah Brightman gets a little screechy near the end.  As my best friend's brother put it, she has an extremely... unique... style of singing, especially in this song.  It's good, though, because then you know it's her right away and you can turn it off.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'll stop.  

"Notes II/Twisted Every Way" is one of my favorite POTO songs, but this version just makes me cringe.  It's probably Sarah Brightman's worse song on the album-- I mean, seriously, Christine's supposed to be terrified and angry at this point, and Sarah Brightman just kind of tiptoes through the lyrics without seeming to really care about what she's saying.  "Raoul.  I'm frightened.  Don't make me do this. Raoul.  It scares me.  Don't put me through this ordeal by fire he'll take me I know we'll be parted forever he won't let me gooooo..."  (Yes, the lack of punctuation in that last line is on purpose.)

As for Steve Barton... come ON, dude.  You probably didn't mean to, but do you realize you kind of made a prototype for Every Wimpy Raoul Ever?  You can't scare the Phantom with a whisper.  I mean, that wasn't even a creepy whisper.  "So.  It is to be war between us.  But this time, my clever friend, the disaster will be... yours... I mean, if you're okay with that."

Okay, so all you Sarah fans who have been tsk-tsk-ing at me through this whole post can finally be satisfied, because I LOVE her version of "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again."  She isn't as emotional as Sierra Boggess (what a SHOCK) but I think she does manage to make the song very haunting and wistful, and the result is quite lovely to listen to.  I really, really like this song-- it was the first one from POTO I ever heard, and in fact I bought it (this version) from iTunes before I even really knew the rest of the story.  It's still one of my top three favorites.  

I have really mixed feelings about Final Lair.  On the one hand, Michael Crawford is absolutely superb.  He plays the whole scene in a heartbreaking way, and though I think I prefer Ramin Karimloo's screaming of the line, the way Michael Crawford whispers, "Christine, why... why?" still gets me every time.  Steve Barton does a passable job-- not half as good as Hadley Fraser or Killian Donnelly, though certainly better than Patrick Wilson (cough). His "I fought so hard to free you," is great, I'll admit.  Sarah Brightman, on the other hand, is kind of... blah.  Until we get to The Kiss moment.  Because I seriously haven't seen a Christine yet who didn't pull that off with flying colors.  That verse is just gorgeousness and I haven't yet heard it sung badly.

Fun fact: I read on a trivia site that the second kiss between Christine and the Phantom was not actually scripted.  In an early performance, Michael Crawford's prosthetic lip got stuck to Sarah Brightman's face during the first kiss, and as she moved back he saw it there and panicked, so he pulled her back in for a second kiss to stick it back on and the People Who Decide These Things liked it so much that it was written into the script.  I can't vouch for the authenticity of this tidbit, however.  But it's still a funny story.

And the closing lines the Phantom sings... chills.  Chills every time. Michael Crawford is AMAZING.

Overall, I really do like the Original Cast Recording.  It features some practically flawless singing, an almost unmatchable performance on Michael Crawford's part, and some superb talent from the managers, Carlotta, Meg, etc.  (I didn't mention Carlotta or Meg in here, but they were really good.  :D)  Christine and Raoul leave something to be desired, but hey, there are literally dozens of other performances to listen to/watch (hooray for Youtube, heehee) if you don't like these portrayals.  25th anniversary, anyone... ?


Indigo Montoya said...

This album was my introduction to the ALW stage version. Now I much prefer the 25th anniversary concert to this album but I'm still quite fond of it. I'm glad that you really liked it overall as well. And you have great snark : D

I love Michael Crawford as the Phantom now. When I first heard him I have to say that I didn't like the tone of his voice very much at all. I mean, I obviously preferred his voice to Gerard Butler's but I wasn't a HUGE fan of MC either. But the more I listened to this album the more his voice began to grow on me. MC might not be my absolute favourite Phantom but I do love him. There's a very otherworldly sound to MC's Phantom I think and his version of MOTN is probably still my favourite. I've heard some beautiful versions of that song but for me MC's has the most pathos.

I am not a fan of Sarah Brightman's Christine at ALL. For me she's the weak link of this album. I really wish Rebecca Caine had originated the role of Christine. Her cadenza in ToM completely blows Sarah Brightman's version out of the water far too easily. I like SB well enough when she's singing classical stuff like Pie Jesu but not as Christine. And her acting terrifies me! Those mad, staring eyes! Even Emmy Rossum's acting is better than SB's! And considering what I think about ER's acting in the 2004 movie that's really saying something!

Ah, I'm very fond of Steve Barton's Raoul actually. I just really love the tone of his voice. But like you I prefer other Raouls like Hadley and Killian Donnelly. But what's this?! You don't care for Patrick Wilson's Raoul! He was easily the best singer in the 2004 movie! OK that's really not saying very much but still! Your review of the 2004 movie is going to make for interesting reading!

Melody said...

I've only listened to a spare few songs from this version, but now I'm curious... I think I'll see if my library has it.

So, am I the only one who wonders why the mask on the front cover isn't the half-mask like it is in all the versions? Isn't that a little inconsistent??

Anyways. I loved the bit of knowing it's her so you can turn her off. Ha ha ha. For more reason than one. ;)

As for SB, I guess I'm basing this bit on when she's older and not during her Christine days, but I dislike her vibrato muchly and when she sings it seems like she's having to try really hard to get the song out, or else to do it the right way, I don't know. Anyways, I think it sounds kind of forced and unnatural.

And the pics of her when she's younger always make me laugh. (Poor fool, she... shuttingup.)

Watched that video... MC's singing sounds okay, but the way he actually talks with the "siiiing" and all that... it's weird. Not just creepy. It's not quite the right kind. :P

All your snarky comments amused me very much. Just thought you ought to know. ;)

Alexandra said...

*sharpens my knife in case you speak against My Idol*....

Ah, okay. She likes him.

*puts knife away*

First off...the cast recording is, honestly, not my favorite. The emotion is a bit flat, especially in Final Lair, when you compare it to bootlegs. I love bootlegs. The link I sent you? The whole show's on there...if ya wanna be really devoted see the whole thing. :P

Anyway, you know my thoughts on Him so I won't elaborate. See the show and then...yeah. :D That's what it took for moi.

Ummm...I hate Sarah. So you totally didn't offend me. My brothers say she looks like a deer in the headlights and that she's Lysette Anthony (Rowena in Ivanhoe-you-know-which-version)'s parted-at-birth sister. Because they both give the big-blue-eyed-blank-stare. Anyway.

I liked Steve Barton, but I've seen better Raouls, definitely. But he was okay.

Basically, I pretty much agree on this whole post. Except that WYWSHA wasn't the best. But other than that. :)

BanrĂ­on An Gheimhridh said...

I am a huge fan of Michael Crawford and I love Sarah Brightman. I don't think Sarah's acting is strange or scary. Her possessed expression and dark eye make-up fit the Romantic genre perfectly. I completely agree with what you said about Michael Crawford's voice. I think he sounds the most Phantom-like. His singing voice is eerie and beautiful, and he is capable of sounding angelic and demonic, vulnerable and menacing.

Melody, the mask was a whole mask in the beginning, but they found it was easier for the phantom to sing with half a mask, so they changed it for the musical.

Joy W. Doering said...

"Her face is pretty much perfectly expressionless, except when she's staring into your soul, when she looks like an evil doll come to life or something."

I just spewed coffee all over my screen & proceeded to choke on what was left in my mouth.

I own the OBCR of Phantom- it's what introduced me to the musical. The first time I listened to it the whole way through, I cried. A lot. I then pushed the Play button to start it all over again. (CD player, you know?)
I am not a Sarah Brightman fan- never have been.
I am, however, a card-carrying member of the "Michael Crawford is THE Phantom" club. I don't keep his picture in my fridge, but still....
I have never seen the 25th Stage recording, but now I want to. Off to the library I go!

Caroline L. said...

The OCR! Yessss! Have I mentioned how much I am loving your posts this week? So much! Especially since you are writing about my all-time 2nd favorite musical. Yay!

Sarah Brightman. I used to not like her, too. But her Christine has really, really grown on me. By no means is she my favorite (I look to you, Sierra), but she is still great in my opinion. I have grown to very much like her clear, crystal-like voice, especially in combination with Michael Crawfords. Iconic, that is. It is very operatic, something that we don't hear very often, but it worked so well once I got used to it (because, um, Christine IS an opera singer who sings opera.)

AHAHA! I get it! I get it! She keeps Michael Crawford's picture IN the refrigerator! HEE HEE! *wipes eyes* I get waaay to much enjoyment out of that for someone who was homeschooled. =]

YES! The phantom IS supposed to sound ghostly! Exactly so! He have the perfect voice for Erik. Creepy, ghostly, passionate, beautiful, and alluring. He can sound so soft and lulling too - his MOTN is like a lullaby. At times, his voice does sound disembodied, like a spirit hovering over the opera house. Absolutely thrilling!!!

Now on to Sarah. True, he emotion is a bit lacking, but I find most everyone's to be rather lacking compared to bootlegs of live performances. Unlike the POTO25 recording, this soundtrack was recorded in a studio, so the energy of a live performance isn't carried over into the voices.

OOOO! So you're doing the movie tomorrow, huh? I am SO going to show up! The movie and I have a love/hate relationship - there are some parts that are dear to my heart because those were the first scenes I saw and because in a few, very few bits, it actually possesses some sparks of brilliance. Anyway, tomorrow conversation is going to be very fun indeed.

Ehh. I've seen Steve Barton performing in a few videos on Youtube. Ehh. He's always like this.

Yes, we need a singer/actor term, but I really have no ideas.

Haha! I was wondering when you'd sneak Michael Ball in here. ;]

YES! "Think of Me" lyric change is so much better! Ug! Gawkish girl??? (Although it is funny. AND gives me more make-fun-of-Raoul fodder. Muahaha!)

You and your sister remind me of me and mine. Hehe.

*snigger* You and your Raoul dialogue!

Agreed. Sarah is lovely in Wishing. She sounds so lost and sorrowful.

AHHH! I'VE BEEN WANTING TO BRING UP PATRICK WILSON THESE WHOLE 2 DAYS! MUAHAHAHA! Tomorrow is going to be SOOO much fun. *rubs hands and looks for lasso*

OOOOOh! You know what? Well, I'm not sure that that story about the prosthetic lips is accurate, BUT! There is this website FULL of funny bloopers and mistakes that have happened in POTO over the years. There is a story like that about the fake lips on there - it's quite an entertaining website to read through.

Michael Crawford IS amazing. Utterly. Finis.

Anonymous said...

Ok. I am not a fan of the stage version but I am a huge fan of the movie so I'm pretty sure I'll be commenting on your post on the movie. (I'll probably sound like Mr. Collins raving on about Rosings)

Michael Crawford has an amazing voice. I really do think he has the best voice for a phantom. Sarah Brightman... I'm not a huge fan although her voice was better back then. I think she's better at singing than acting.

The reason why Barton seems wimpy as Raoul is because sadly Andrew Lloyd Webber was a Phantom fan. Even though he made Christine end up with Raoul (forget about the stilly Mess of a "sequel"), he made Raoul a minor character so he could focus on Phantom and Christine. That's one reason I love the movie because they brought Raoul in the spotlight and made him do manly things like swordfighting and Horseriding (he did all his own stunts).

Oh and the "promotion" that the original cast did of the Phantom of the Opera - the one where the phantom releases the chandelier onto Raoul's head - is the funniest promotion I've ever seen.

And you like random fun facts? Well, Amy, here's one for you: Sarah Brightman is going to be an astronaut. No kidding. Once she wraps up her concerts (I think she might already have done so) she'll go into training and will launch into space in 2015. I assume she plans to come back.

- The Elf

Ginny@RandomActsofMomness said...

At the risk of admitting my age, I actually saw that Tony Awards clip live when it aired. I was in high school, and I recorded it on a VHS tape, and I practically wore it out watching it.

Then -- I still can't believe my good fortune -- I was able to see Michael Crawford perform the part live in LA. He was, in a word, amazing. I was practically levitating in my very high nosebleed seats.

I even did the classic stalker thing and got his autograph at the stage door, along with a really unflattering picture of him, poor man (My mom snapped it when he was in the middle of saying something and his mouth was weirdly distorted). But oh, what a Phantom he was. He'll always be my fave.

Sierra Bailey said...

I'm not a huge fan of the Original Concept Version (I just love the 25th way to much, not to mention Ramin.)
But I will say Michel Crawford's voice is suburb!

Quinlyn said...

Awesome post! I never actually cared for what I've heard of Michael Crawford, but he IS a good singer.

I'm sure you've seen this, but it's cheesiness gets me every time...
I like how the Phantom looks Roman.