Lyrics: Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe
Book: Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Director: Laurence Connor
Celebratory, anniversary and concert versions of long-running shows are as much a part of musical theatre history as the West End-based productions they honour, bringing together a fantasy cast of the greatest performers from the past with the fans who adore it. Les Misérables recently made a virtue of necessity with a summer concert version while their usual home was redecorated, and now, for just 24 hours (UK), Andrew Lloyd Webber has made the fully-staged 25th Anniversary version of Phantom of the Opera available on The Shows Must Go On YouTube channel.
Based on Gaston Leroux’s novel, this is the story of Christine Daaé, a chorus girl in the Paris Opera and her relationship with the mysterious Phantom of the Opera whose mysterious – and slightly suspect – gaslighting methodology encourages her voice as well as a devotion to him. Contriving a lead role for her in the latest production the Phantom has almost all he wants until the arrival of Raoul steals her heart, so then the battle begins for Christine’s soul.
You may sniff at the behemoths of the West End but never doubt their power, one that sings down the years, the absolute love and devotion they inspire, which decades on draws audiences to these anniversary versions. And this one is splendid, staged in full at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011 where the tiny stage transforms into a Parisian theatre with the orchestra placed above the action.
With projection designed by Jon Driscoll, the audience is easily and convincingly moved between the various locations of the story using video backdrops, including large-scale projections of the note-writing Phantom and large swishing curtains which do very well even on this filmed version. The very best moments include Raoul and Christine’s declaration of love on the sunset-bathed roof of the opera house and, of course, the gondola that the Phantom steers across the smoke and candle-filled stage – it’s very 80s but one of theatre’s most memorable and still enjoyable illusions.
Film director Nick Morris working with stage director Laurence Conor focuses quite closely on the interplay between the three leads, keeping the camera tight on their faces and following them in the larger numbers. The effect is a moving, very human production that offers a great deal of complexity in these relationships, with real nuance in the presentation of the Phantom in particular. And Morris employs a number of different perspectives, filming from the footlights to replicate the foreboding atmosphere of the show, and also from above to showcase the choreography.
However, this is sometimes at the expense of the spectacle of The Phantom of the Opera, with wide shots of the full stage a little too far away or interrupted by honing-in on the lead characters instead. Some of the effects of the wonderful Masquerade sequence which opens Act Two, a riot of colour and costume, are a little lost, while other segments where several characters are on stage and singing together are a little scrappy. Morris is not always sure who to focus on so cuts almost haphazardly between them.
Ramin Karimloo is a wonderful Phantom, exuding allure in the first Act as he enchants Christine with Music of the Night, his passion for composition and for his leading lady intensely intermingled. As his plans unfold, Karimloo brings out his dangerous and vengeful side, spitting out the words as he vows to destroy his creation but there is so much vulnerability in the performance that Karimloo never entirely loses the audience’s sympathy, especially in the moving conclusion as a lifetime of rejection and loneliness are meaningfully displayed.
Sierra Boggess is an equally wonderful Christine, the naïve orphan caught in the Phantom’s spell but with an underlying spirit that makes sense of her fight for freedom. Boggess sings beautifully and whether it’s the famous titular rock song, the the moving Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again or the passionate Point of No Return, the development from traumatised victim to determined woman is very well done.
Keep watching through the applause and ovations because there is a post-show treat with the return of the original London cast introduced by Lloyd Webber, including Michael Crawford – visibly moved by the rapturous reception of the Albert Hall – and Sarah Brightman who sings with a host of past Phantoms including Colm Wilkinson (also one of the greatest Valjeans) and this production’s hero Karimloo who bows in reverence to Crawford as the first of them all. It’s a wonderful tribute to a show that continues to captivate and enchant.
Phantom of the Opera is arguably Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest and most satisfying score, lush, romantic and gothic, but tinged with melancholy and tragedy, so this production sweeps along transporting the audience. Anniversary celebrations have a vital role to play in encouraging people to return to a show they love. With this one available for just 24-hours in the UK there may well be queues outside Her Majesty’s Theatre once it reopens.
Streaming here until 7pm 18 April