Eight things I learned watching ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ 25th anniversary concert

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?

20 thoughts on “Eight things I learned watching ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ 25th anniversary concert

  1. Haven’t gotten a chance to watch the concert but I have always loved Phantom. I downright bawled when I saw it at Joanne Woodward’s theatre in Greenville, SC. Great post! Particularly the Danver’s crack! ;)

  2. I loved it. I noticed that the direction, acting wise, changed a bit to set the characters up for Love Never Dies … which I think was the point of this telecast in the first place. The cast in this is exactly the same and Andrew Lloyd Webber a sly, money-making fox.

    I was bummed that Michael Crawford didn’t sing when all the Phantoms came out but he’s currently doing Wizard of Oz, so … it makes sense that he needed to save his voice. Still. I love Michael Crawford.

    1. Yes, the most significant change I noticed was having Christine sing to the Phantom as a goodbye, rather than offstage with Raoul.

  3. Sarah Brightman’s hand gestures while singing are confusing to me. Oh well, she’s made bank off being Sarah Brightman, so – get it, girl!

    The telecast was grand and reminded me of all the things I love about Phantom – Because I do love Phantom, and question any theatre-people who say they don’t love Phantom. :)

    1. I may have to watch her performance to see these crazy hand gestures you speak of. And while she’s made bank as Brightman, she also had to sleep with ALW to get there. So, yeah…

  4. Perfect example of why I love reading your reviews. Well thought out, non vicious and humorous….and I agree on all counts.

  5. LOL I love how you just had an epiphany that she’s an orphan. She sings “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” (in a cemetery! in front of a tombstone!) that just in case you missed all the references in act 1, smack you on the head and tell you her daddy is gone and she’s had issues since.

    1. Don’t judge my lack of attention to detail. And by “detail,” I mean major plot points. I just liked the song and thought it was pretty. I knew her father died, but never really considered her mother was gone as well. If fact, I never really considered much of Christine’s backstory, actually.

  6. I just watched the concert for the 2nd time and I really enjoyed it. I saw it on Broadway for the first time back in 1997 and then again a couple years ago. I have always enjoyed the music, but have always been a bit bored when I saw it on stage. I was totally taken in by the concert…I can’t stop listening to the cds. I thought all the performances were excellent….I’ve always been envious of ladies who can sing Christine and Sierra was so good! Now to some of your points…

    4. YES. Ramin’s voice is so damn sexy…from the moment he sang the first note I was like “Yes please!!!” His portrayal of the Phantom was so heartbreaking…I don’t ever remember feeling sorry for him, but my heart broke for the Phantom this time around. I wanted to give him a hug. And his “Music of the Night” was probably the first time I actually wanted to listen to that song. I always skip it when it comes up on my ipod…no more!

    7. Oh my god. She frightens me…so much.

    8. It does still hold up. People like to talk crap about ALW shows (I also love Cats, it was my first Broadway show), but there is a reason why it is still running after 10,000 performances.

    Nothing about Hadley Fraser? I really liked him in this…I would love to see him play Javert in Les Miserables. good looking…good singer…I’m on board!

  7. We rented the DVD this weekend and I was so mesmerized and excited that afterward I had to call my daughter in Chicago to tell her to get it. She’s seen Phanton numerous times, including once on Broadway, so is a solid fan. I’ve seen the road show only once – in Denver – and keep hoping it will come to Incianapolis. Overall, this 25th Annniversary performance was exqusitely and masterfully done. I was also disappointed that Crawford didn’t join in the finale.

  8. I have yet to see this, but I am looking forward to it. Sarah Brightman does in fact scare me. And I have seen the show twice and learned so much more about it the second time.

    Very witty and informative. Love it.

  9. Gustave (The Phantom’s and Christine’s child) was actaully created the night before Christine and Raoul’s wedding! If you listen to the lyrics of “Beneath a Moonless Sky”, it tells the whole story! Its crazy. If you do get curious and look it up, make sure it’s not the Australian version, because they have different lyrics.

  10. Just watched this on Netflix. I’ve seen the show many times and the ORIGINAL “Love Never Dies,” before they revamped that and Madame Girey lost the French accident. Ramin is by far the best Phantom ever! His voice is spectacular! I nearly got stoned when I said that in the theatre after “Love Never Dies.”. Sorry, Michael Crawford is a fine entertainer but I can’t separate him from his performance in “Hello Dolly”. Sorry fans, I just don’t prefer his singing.

    Loved the Finale! I’ve seen Sarah in concert and she’s magnificent. She might be creepy to some, but I just love her…creepy and all. Love Colme and the guy who sang Javert on the 10th Anniversary Dream Cast of Les Mis.

  11. I must admit, when I first saw Sarah Brightman on Public Television in a San Francisco in the 90s, I wasn’t certain that I would like her. Sort of Marie Osmond looking at the time, and she seemed like a play doll with those arm movements. Later, I caught her again singing “Time to Say Goodbye” on another TV special. I have been fortunate to have seen both Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman in concert in separate shows in the San Francisco Bay Area. Michael appeared in a musical revue of ALW’s plays highlighting the key songs. Later, he appeared with the Loyola Marymount University Choir from Los Angeles when he toured the San Francisco area. I have seen Sarah Brightman in concert 5 times as she is a remarkable talent. I look forward to her new concert “Dreamchaser” tour this coming Spring 2013. Caught the second half of the 25th Anniversary of Phantom of the Opera, and had a good time seeing the great performers with Andrew Loyd Webber. I recall seeing the anniversary special for Les Miserable, and the outstanding Michael Ball. I bet he hates to fly as he never tours the US.

  12. These are all great but number 3 isn’t right. In the lyrics of Beneath A Moonless Sky we are told that she goes to find the Phantom the night before her wedding and that’s when they get jiggy :) over and over and over again apparently ;) no hate just one Phan to another :)

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