"But his voice filled my spirit with a strange sweet sound, and that night there was music in my mind. And through music my soul began to soar..."
I'm really, really going to try to get through this review without going full-on Gushy Fangirl. No, honestly, I am. Because though I love this production with a love great and fervent, it deserves a thoughtful and objective review that clearly outlines--
--oh, forget it, I'm just going to do things my own merry way.
I'm going to do something a bit odd here and start with the venue, instead of the main characters. Because this movie, after all, is a bit different from those I usually review. It's an actual film of the entire play-- in other words, every musical theatre geek's dream-she-dreamed come true, live in living color. If the people who are in charge of such things did something like this for every great musical there's ever been, fangirls everywhere would freak out. And then go broke. Because they'd be spending all their money on DVDs, ya know.
The fact that this show was staged and filmed at the Royal Albert Hall was very exciting for me, because the RAH (as it will hereinafter be abbreviated) was also the location for the Les Mis 10th Anniversary Concert, which as you all know is very near and dear to my heart. So it was quite interesting to see it all lit up and beautified for Phantom-- you can almost imagine you're watching the story unfold in the Paris Opera House itself. Well, except when the camera randomly zooms up to the sound-muffling mushrooms. Those parts kind of break the mood. Heehee.
The only real downside to the show taking place at the RAH, really, is that some of the technical aspects of the production were not possible in this location. The RAH stage is designed for concerts, not plays, so the "scenery" had to be arranged in quite a creative way-- all of the backdrops are actually projections on a LED screen or whatever it's called. (If someone more knowledgeable about such things would like to comment and elaborate on how this was done, please do so.) And of course there was another big difference between this production and the staging at a traditional theatre, but we'll get to that... when we get to it.
I was about to start with Christine in my List of Important Characters, but decided to begin with the Phantom himself (whose real name is Erik, in case you didn't know that, and I'll probably use the two interchangeably) because after all the play is called Phantom of the Opera, not Christine of the Opera. Nor is it called Carlotta of the Opera, though I'm sure she would enjoy that... wait, I'm getting ahead of myself again.
Ramin Karimloo plays the Phantom, and a very good job he does-- jum-jills.
(Um, sorry. Private sister joke.)
In all seriousness, this guy is my absolute favorite Phantom. He's the first one I saw/heard all the way through, true, and you know what they say about your first being your favorite, but he really is unbelievably good. He blends just the right mix of gorgeous-voice-and-entrancing-charismatic-what-have-you with creepy-stalker-who's-seriously-disturbed-but-everyone-pities-him-anyway. And the voice, did I mention the voice? THE VOICE. Is this man my favorite singer? He very well may be. (Oh, but wait, there's also Michael Ball... and Alfie Boe... and all the Irish Tenors... and, um, yeah, I'm basically Philippa Gordon when it comes to music.) Am I going to write the rest of this post as if I were Officer Tomilello? Perhaps.
Sorry. Another private joke. I'll stop, really I will. (And hey, if you "got" the references in either of these private jokes, you are either one of my sisters, Margaret Hale or Marie--who are almost sisters anyway--, or else you're just exceedingly well-versed in children's literature.)
Anyways. Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom. Most excellent. Yes. Good.
Sierra Boggess is absolutely gorgeous, people. She's either the most beautiful Christine Daae I've ever seen or else very high on the list (Anna O'Byrne and Gina Beck are some other top contenders) and her voice, though not picture-perfect (or would that be record-perfect...?) is really, really good. She's also a very talented actress, and puts more pathos and emotion into the role than any other portrayal I've seen or heard. (And yes, you can totally tell if an actor's really getting into the role just by hearing it. That is what musical theatre is about.)
Christine is sometimes seen as a cowardly, two-dimensional character who spends the whole play whining about how she misses her daddy and vacillating between two suitors when it's perfectly obvious (to both camps-- Team Raoul and Team Erik :D) whom she should have chosen. Whether or not this view of the character is fair to Christine (I maintain that it's both unfair and inaccurate), Sierra Boggess' portrayal can't be accused of any of it. She makes Christine relatable and likable, pitiable and admirable... and also, of course, totally enviable because hello, her CLOTHES.
Well, actually, that credit belongs to the costume designer, but still.
Sierra Boggess has been called a real-life Disney princess, and I heartily concur. She was pretty much born to play Christine (yes, I know Christine isn't a Disney princess-- shush) and though she occasionally goes off-key just a little bit and her fake transatlantic slash posh-British accent in the spoken lines gets annoying now and then, she's still my absolute favorite.
(I like this cast. In case you can't tell.)
|(click to enlarge)|
(Just kidding. There'll be another whole post on Raoul-and-why-he's-awesome tomorrow.)
Hadley Fraser is another of my favorite singer/actors, and his Raoul is even better than his Grantaire (Les Mis 25th concert) or Army Captain (Les Mis 2012 film). The aggressiveness he brought to the role has been criticized by many people, but I really like the depth he gave Raoul. Yes, he comes across as a bit controlling at times, but if your girlfriend was being threatened by some masked weirdo who you weren't sure even existed in the first place, wouldn't you have a few anger management issues too?
Plus, the guy's got a fabulous voice (seems to be a running theme in this show... oh, wait, it's a stage musical that cast real theatre performers and not pop stars or movie actors, so I really shouldn't have a surprised feeling) and though his "guyliner" is a bit giggle-worthy now and then, at least he knows it. Heehee. And you need only see the picture above to realize what a good actor he is. Much better than certain wooden or wimpy Raouls who just stood around in their long hair and sang their songs in stellar but limp voices...
Get on with the review, Amy. Don't even dare any more to compare, say a prayer for your sorry--
I'm not going over every character in the show (not that there's THAT many of them, but I do have a finite amount of space here) in this review, but I do want to briefly mention Wendy Ferguson as Carlotta-- she's stinkin' hilarious and her voice is amazing and she has really great stage presence. Most excellent. Again.
Okay, done, now we can talk about the story.
The opening is spine-chilling, as I'm sure you all know. No, not the auction-- that number isn't exactly boring, but neither does it pull you to the edge of your seat. I'm talking about the chandelier being revealed and the orchestra plunging into that overture. (I'm a sucker for overtures.) Y'all know at least the first six notes even if you know nothing else of the music. It's the big DA! Da-da-da-da-a! and boy, is it ever big. (One of my wee minor complaints about the RAH concert album is that the sound mixing could have been done better-- in some parts it's really quiet and in others eardrum-blastingly loud.)
"Hannibal" is kind of boring as well, unfortunately, and I'll admit that when I'm watching the film I tend to skip it. I mean, it's a bunch of people prancing about in grass skirts and embroidered corsets and sometimes not even that, and Carlotta's swinging a skull around and screeching and Piangi's messing up his pronunciation. Well, okay, that part's funny. And that's where it gets good-- because that's where Andre and Firmin, the new managers, come in, and they're hilarious. Barry James and Gareth Snook are indubitably the best managers POTO has ever seen.
Sierra Boggess' version of "Think of Me" isn't my favorite, to be honest. I really like the song, and she sang it beautifully as far as tune and everything goes, but she sounded too happy overall to really communicate the wistfulness of the piece. And that outfit is stupid. Sorry, but it just is. She looks like she's wearing a brocade circus tent. (Not to be confused with Carlotta's "Think of Me" outfit, which consists of two brocade circus tents.)
Raoul's reaction to Christine's performance is THE BEST, though. Well, almost the best. The best is really Andre's reaction to Raoul's reaction. You can't see it too well in the gif below, but in the next few frames he kind of makes this "what on earth is going on here? Is this a sing-along? NOBODY TOLD ME," face, and it cracks me up every time.
Daisy Maywood plays a great Meg in "Angel of Music" (and in the rest of the play, too, of course)-- she seems genuinely concerned for Christine's well-being and isn't just pirouetting around the stage shrieking that she saw a monster under her bed. Or whatever it is that she's always saying. I mean, she does do that, but you get the impression that she actually has a personality underneath her ballet moves and paranoia/anxiety issues.
Also, can we pause just a minute and gush over Christine and Meg's hair? Because this is when their hair looks best-- yes, I know those are both wigs, and curly wigs made of human hair tend to kind of melt as they're exposed to hot lights and whatnot. (Christine's hair by the time "Final Lair" rolls around, for instance, is quite straight and stringy.) Anyways, I just want to have either of their hair (hairs?). For my own. Please?
I'll admit, "Angel of Music" and its segue into "The Phantom of the Opera" (minus Raoul's interruption, of course, which I love-- it's so cute) is kinda-sorta creepy. I mean, this masked man shows up in a girl's mirror in her DRESSING ROOM after singing to her (supposedly inside her head, at that) for quite a while leading up to this, and she has no qualms whatsoever about following him into the mirror (Magic Attic Club vibes, anyone?) and down into his lair, singing all the way. Yeah, his lair. The dude has a lair. Is this spooky? Yeah, kind of. Would it freak me out if it happened in real life? Totally. Is this a musical and therefore not real? Yep. Does it make for a really awesome pair of musical numbers? Indubitably. Let's say no more.
"The Phantom of the Opera" is a really cool song, and it's incredibly fun to sing dramatically with one's sister while doing the dishes, and this rendition of it is almost the best one ever. The only things keeping it from utter and complete awesomeness are a) the absence of Ramin's signature "grows stronger yet" part (see it here and try to ignore the beard-- he was playing Valjean at the time and it's a role requirement) and b) the annoying electric guitar and synthesizers and all the other things that are making that horrid racket in the background. I know this was composed in the 80's and has rock vibes and blah blah blah, but that doesn't mean I have to LIKE it.
Then there's "Music of the Night" and while I like the song well enough, I personally feel it's over-hyped, and to be honest, it bores me at times. Ramin's version is great and all, but the song itself doesn't really thrill me. (Sorry, MOTN fans. Put the nice lasso down, Ally.)
One thing they left out of this version (and I'm really not sure why) is the life-sized doll in the wedding dress-- and because of this, Christine's swoon seems kind of random and out of place. Doesn't detract from the scene-- it's just funny. So is the Phantom's extremely historically-inaccurate tattoo peeking out from under his sleeve cuff when he reaches for the candles at the end. AAAAHEEEEEEEEEEM.
|(Also, this screencap is kind of hilarious. Heehee.)|
"I Remember/Stranger Than You Dreamt It" kind of reminds me of that little-kid song about the tree-- you know, the one about how the branch was on the tree and the tree was on the roots and the roots were in the ground and the green grass grew all around and around (and the green grass grew all around). "And on the lake there was a boat and in the boat there was a man... and the green grass grew all around and--"
Stop it, Amy, or no one is going to take this review seriously.
Not that they really did in the first place.
Anyways, the part where she rips his mask off is admirably done, though I wouldn't have complained if there was a little less swearing. Phantom honey, there are many other ways to express your feelings than just using the d-word. Consider telling Christine that she is a meanie-head, or announce your desire that she grow like an onion with her head in the ground. Oh, and the way you switched abruptly from cursing at her to pouring out your desire for her to love you is not really the best method of charming a girl. Just thought I'd give you a heads-up.
If it weren't for the fact that I already have so many other favorites, "Notes" might very well be my favortie song. It's just so hilarious, and Andre-and-Firmin really get a chance to shine here. "And what is it that we're meant to have wrote? ...Uh. Written."
My only complaint is that everyone sings over each other way too much. If you thought "Confrontation" in Les Mis was bad, you should listen to Phantom. Sheesh. Of course most of what Carlotta sings is unintelligible anyway (she's just complaining in Italian with a lot of trills) and all Piangi's doing is repeating whatever Carlotta says (does that man ever do anything other than follow Carlotta around and mispronounce stuff...?) but I wouldn't mind being able to hear Raoul more clearly. Of course, that's what online lyrics are for. :D
Oh, and by the way, I really love how Madame Giry's voice kind of meshes in with the Phantom's as they read the notes aloud. Very cool. The notes themselves are great too. "Every note's overblown and the third trombone HAS to go-- the man could not be deafer so please preferably one who plays IN TUNE!"
(Hasty insertion here that Liz Robertson makes a great Madame Giry and I apologize for not mentioning her before, and she might want to lay off the black lipstick and all because it kind of makes her look scary, no offense. And there are practically no pictures of her to be found on the Internet, so go watch the film and you'll know how she looks.)
And for your random information, PTO does not mean, as I thought it did, "Phantom [of] The Opera." It means "turn the page over." Melody quite kindly pointed this out to me, and though I never would have thought of it myself, it makes perfect sense. Why would he sign the note as the Phantom and then again as the O.G.? O.G.? Who the Halifax is he? ... *loud huff* OPERA GHOST.
"Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh" was never very high on my list of favorite songs-- that is, not until I spent a week with Melody and for some inexplicable reason it became Our Song. The tune we hummed while making lemon squares, the snatches we sang while hiking in the woods, the lyrics we whispered to each other while other people were having dinner and making sensible conversation... it seriously never stopped running through our heads. And now I have fond associations associated with it. The song itself actually is kind of hilarious, and Wendy Ferguson's Carlotta really hams it up. The whole opera-within-an-opera is really funny, too-- everything's so exaggerated and silly and some of the lines are just comedy gold. "I shall not leave, but shall hiiiii-iiiiide. Over There."
Also Sierra Boggess manages to look gorgeous in a page boy outfit. Which really shouldn't be a surprise.
Annnnnnd that brings us to the end of Part One. Because if you thought I was going to squeeze this whole movie into one post, you thought mistakenly. Tune in tomorrow for Part Two!