Can you believe it? Phantom is a quarter of a century old. It’s the longest running show on Broadway, has generated roughly 4,678,980 katillion dollars, and your beer guzzling brother-in-law can probably hum out a few bars of “Music of the Night.” Or not. But still.
It’s a phenomenon. A phantomnomenom. Nom nom nom.
Secrets! I adore Phantom. Yes, the music is repetitive and the characters are pretty one-dimensional, but the whole package is delivered so well (thanks to director Hal Prince and designer Maria Bjornson), who cares.
I saw it three times in Toronto during my formative theatre queen years. For Christine, I had Rebecca Caine, Melissa Dye and some other woman. For their Phantoms, we had Colm Wilkinson (the *original* Jean ValJean) and Peter Karrie (who’s essentially Colm Wilkinson) twice.
It’s been 18 years since I’ve seen the show, and I was thisclose to catching it when I was in London in January. But I felt like doing so would somehow be lame, so I opted for Ghost: The Musical. Yup.
Anyway, the lavishly produced 25th anniversary concert staging at Royal Albert Hall recently aired on PBS, and I forced my partner to watch the thing with me. Here are some discoveries after having nearly two decades between viewings of this megamusical.
1) Christine’s an orphan. Somehow, through all the flash, fury and falling chandeliers, I completely overlooked this minor detail. It’s no wonder she goes throwing herself into random men’s arms — bemasked homicidal musical prodigies or otherwise. She’s looking for a daddy figure. Got it!
2) “Notes/Prima Donna” is an excellent piece of musical theatre writing. I mean, I’ve always loved this segment, but 18 years later, wherein I discovered the genius of Sondheim, this opinion still holds. Two out-of-their-league opera managers struggle to keep the Paris Opéra from collapsing while a diva-happy-to-relieve-a-chorus-girl-whose-gone-and-slept-with-the-patron bellows her insecurities, all while threatening demands in artfully scripted letters keep materializing by way of the mysterious Madame Giry? There’s a lot going on in this scene, and it’s funny, witty and gorgeously composed. I also like how, in this concert, they had Carlotta change into her Il Muto getup during the number.
3) It’s no wonder Christine’s all quivery and nervous to wear Raoul’s engagement ring. The gal’s most likely harboring a dirty secret. Spoiler alert: Christine had a baby by the Phantom in ALW’s sequel, Love Never Dies, right? So, um, when exactly did they conceive this (wandering) child? It would make sense that it would happen during the time when she’s being “well taught” by POTO in early act 1. Because in act 2, Christine makes mention of how it’s been six months since she’s seen him, and she’d be showing by then, right? Unless she’s having an “I didn’t know I was pregnant” moment, or she bound the baby bump down with her “Masquerade” corset. Either way, love never dies.
4) The Phantom works best when he’s sexy. I’m sorry Colm Wilkinson and Peter Karrie, but you are both essentially clean-shaven Jean Valjeans in tailored suits. And while you both have charisma and strong falsetto notes, it takes a lot more than that to get this gal to follow you down into the lair. Ramin Karimloo on the other hand…
5) However, POTO might want to consider toning down the eye shadow. One thing I couldn’t help noticing while watching this concert in HD was the excessive makeup on poor POTO. As they say in RuPaul’s Drag Race, he’s one blush stroke away from “servin’ fish”:
(In fact, the more I look at this, the more he looks like Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria.)
6) Madame Giry is a manipulative bitch. Look at her, all Mrs. Danversed up with her severe hair, black dress and extreme posture. Not only does she force her ballet slave girls to practice until midnight to perfect a dance that I thought looked just fine already, but she knows far too much about this phantom ghost to suit my tastes. And she says shitty things to Joseph Bouquet that result in his death. And let’s not forget that she got us all into this mess by pushing Christine into the spotlight to sing that great opera aria, “Think of Me.” Plus she stomps that damn cane like she owns the place. Raoul and company should have forced Miss G to practice, en point, until midnight to force answers out of this passive aggressive terror of a woman.
7) Sarah Brightman gets spookier by the second. I’ve always been creeped out by her, but this time, holy hell. I had to turn the channel because I feared for my soul. With her puffy cheeks, creepy breath-voice and bulging eyes that seem to peer into an unseen void of despair, are we sure she isn’t the phantom?
8) The piece still holds up. Unlike Cats (which I also love, shut up), Phantom is truly timeless. It’s a love story with a sense of danger, fantasy and spectacle — a combination that fixates. And the music is haunting and hummable. Most importantly, I wasn’t bored watching this anniversary concert (ok, I did walk the dog during “Music of the Night,” but Karimloo was still going strong with the number when I came back, so I didn’t really miss much).
What did you think of the concert?