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SOUND OFF: PHANTOM 25 - Sweet Intoxication

Today we are analyzing all aspects of last night's spectacular special presentation of the 25th anniversary of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA live from the Royal Albert Hall. This unprecedented full performance of the world's most successful entertainment staged specifically for this event was simulcast live to hundreds of theaters around the world, with Fathom proving yet again - LES MISERABLES, Sondheim's COMPANY and the Shakespeare's Globe Series, among many others, coming before - that they are the pioneers of perhaps the most exciting Broadway-related entertainment entity of the twenty-first century - live HD filming of theatrical enterprises. Over the course of the three hours of the complete musical as it has been performed on Broadway and the West End and around the world for twenty-five years, as well as a phantastic reception and encore featuring Andrew Lloyd Webber, Michael Crawford, Sarah Brightman, Cameron Mackintosh and four famous Phantoms - Toronto's Colm Wilkinson, the West End's John Owen Jones, Australia's Anthony Warlow and the new incoming West End title player Peter Joback - PHANTOM 25 is the theatre event of the year. Yes, PHANTOM 25 may very well be the most exciting and engrossing live show ever filmed and the presentation was exceedingly superb in technical aspects - and, now, the mind boggles at how utterly brilliant and breathtaking the forthcoming Blu-ray will be based on last night's performance (November in the UK, February in the US). Capturing the comedy in an enjoyable and surprising manner while still containing the menace and horror that gives it a distinct bite in the musical theatre realm (from the original director of SWEENEY TODD, Harold Prince, no less), and, most of all, arousing the most passionate and carnal of emotions in any willing and ready viewer - PHANTOM 25 was almost everything a phan, Broadway baby or even a casual viewer could ever want. And so much more. PHANTOM 25 is now the crowning jewel of the show's legacy - the mask on the eponymous master magician and musician's face that somehow manages to make him truly, finally, wholly complete.

Encore showings of PHANTOM 25 in Fathom-equipped theaters worldwide will occur throughout the rest of October. You can find out further information and pre-order tickets at Fathom's official site here

Let Your Darker Side Give In

Wow. Words can barely do justice to the power and sheer joy that PHANTOM 25 is and was. The notion of live performances being captured on video is nothing new, yet the nature of HD technology and the ability for presenters to broadcast special live filmings of such events to movie theaters around the world has suddenly made musical theatre totally accessible and affordable to anyone yearning to see more - as well as offering a host of other entertainments such as opera, Shakespeare, ballet, sporting events, concerts and much more. Fathom has revolutionized how we can see musical theatre in the 21st century with their seriously risky series of ventures over the last few years. With PHANTOM 25, Fathom can now pride themselves in knowing that not only have they brought the world's most successful musical to anyone curious enough to want to check it out at their local multiplex - the less said about the 2004 Joel Schumacher film version, the better - but, also, have made a number of other important theatre pieces available to for all to witness: most recently, the Lonny Price-directed NY Philharmonic production of Stephen Sondheim's COMPANY starring Neil Patrick Harris was met with overwhelming success in its two-time extended stay in movie theaters; as well as the ravishing Shakespeare's Globe Series; both of which have been covered extensively in this column. Thanks to Fathom, we are in the midst of an entertainment revolution and we now can experience theatre in a way that has never, ever been possible before this very moment in time. That is seriously something to sing to the highest rafters about and rattle the chandeliers. Last night's presentation of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA was, without question, Fathom's finest achievement to date and they should now be the standard for how to be the best in the world at this type of special entertainment. High praise, indeed, but fully - dare I say, desperately - deserved. Everyone needs to know about this. We are now on the precipice of perhaps the most exciting time in history for those who have been yearning for the perfect marriage of theatre, film and the endless possibilities afforded by the ever-developing HD (soon, 3D). I cannot wait to see what they do next. This will be near impossible to top. Ever.

No, the chandelier did not really rise or fall very much - at the end of Act One, it exploded in a frenzy of strobe, smoke, fire and fireworks instead - and Michael Crawford did not treat the phans to a rendition of "The Music Of the Night", yet neither of those elements really mattered when you consider that, first, the Royal Albert Hall has strict fire laws and the chandelier being used was the gorgeous Swarovski creation from the 2004 feature film version (weighing actual tons), and, second, Michael Crawford had just rushed off the Palladium stage where he plays the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's new stage version of THE WIZARD OF OZ in the West End. After Lloyd Webber's impassioned speech through tear-stained eyes, original Christine Sarah Brightman appeared, looked lovely and sounded splendid as she performed a quintet version of the show's title song alongside four specially singled-out Phantoms from the show's incredibly rich lineage of actors - Australia's beloved Anthony Warlow (usually quite reticent to leave his home country and participate in such events), Toronto's revered first Phantom Colm Wilkinson (who is somehow even more adored and worshipped the world over for his originating of the lead role of Jean Valjean in LES MISERABLES), the current stalwart West End Phantom, John Owen Jones, and, the next West End Phantom, Peter Joback. While the title song will unquestionably always be most powerful as a duet - especially as originally sung by Crawford and Brightman; and, now, with an equally impressive and scintillating iteration preserved for the ages thanks to Boggess and Karimloo - this was a true delight and a welcome surprise for even the casual viewer. "The Music Of The Night" did not fare quite as well, though, with a tentative performance by many involved given the short rehearsal and the song's lack of elasticity when it comes to group versions - yet, it packed a punch to see Lord Lloyd Webber and Michael Crawford - the original Phantom himself who joined in for the last note - so visibly moved to trembling tears in the vociferous reaction from the normally relatively subdued audience. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, seeing all of those theatrical luminaries together onstage, and, had it not come after one of the most riveting presentations of its kind ever, it would have been the highlight of the evening. I am even happier to report, though, that the show itself was really the star of the night - and I honesly do not feel that the show has ever felt this viscerally alive. In almost any production you are likely to see, the entertainment value of PHANTOM is always good - and, with the right performers, the show can be truly great, and, even, magical (as it was with Brightman and Crawford, and, from many reports, Wilkinson and Rebecca Caine) - yet, this totally unique version of the show called PHANTOM 25 may very well be the most effective, enjoyable, entertaining and intoxicating of them all. I would not be surprised to see a live stadium tour of it - yet, with the forthcoming CD, DVD and Blu-ray, that might not be necessary.

All told, there was nary a negative. Everything worked. From the very start, the HD filming brought us into the proceedings in a dynamic, involving and enveloping way, while always allowing the staging and actors ample space to breathe - even if the stage happened to be covered in smoke. There was never a moment I felt was over-edited, which is the usual course of action for those involved when rendering a theatrical entity on film. It was exceptionally sensitively captured. The many long shots and full stage-shots made the experience much like it must have been for those in the actual Royal Albert Hall - or, for an audience at the actual live show in any of its various venues from Broadway to Bombay. Thankfully, there were no audience reaction shots, either, which almost always rob any theatrical endeavor of any dramatic or emotional coherence the moment a cut to the audience comes. The roving cameras through the audience during the auction scene and throughout the filming were a deft touch of brilliance, particularly in finding a visual expression for the most outwardly voyeuristic moments of the Phantom's - especially during "Notes". On the note - or, should I say, notes - of "Notes", the comedic operetta octet has never been more winningly done than it was here and each and every one of the cast members involved in it paint such vivid, memorable and fully-formed characterizations as to make one delight in this sequence in a whole new way - a scene which can sometimes feel like filler between the big showpiece sequences that the show is so famous for. Indeed, Carlotta has never, ever been more real and relatable than she was here and the new owners of the Opera Populaire have never been funnier and more charming in their pitiable plight. While we all know now thanks to LOVE NEVER DIES that Raoul ends up as a destitute, abusive gambler cruel to Christine, the first of the LOVE NEVER DIES love triangle trio to be mentioned here may very well have the most thankless role in the show of all, yet Hadley Fraser made Raoul a complex character with many motivations that could be clearly felt as the action progressed - this Raoul is not merely some rich pretty playboy with a trust fund. Never before had I felt the pain of the old, embittered, ruminative Raoul of the first scene come through in subtle ways to the decades earlier version he plays for the rest of the duration of the show. Fraser made that kind of dramatic magic happen - reminding us where Raoul ends up - continuously throughout his rich, studied, assured and excellently sung (especially, his phrasing) portrayal of a treacherously tricky and thankless role. He complements Boggess and Karimloo so absolutely ideally and their triptych participation in both LOVE NEVER DIES and, now, PHANTOM 25 is the principal reason for its success in many ways - pure and simple. They made the magic happen again last night - live; right before our eyes, ears, hearts and souls.

The Phantom and Christine are two modern-day classics in the character canon of musical theatre and the material crafted by Lloyd Webber and company for them in this show is among his very finest writing to date - and with good reason, if you know the back-story of how the show itself came to be (Lloyd Webber's successful wooing and wedding of Sarah Brightman and the implicit parallels contained therein given the story being musicalized being the most important part of it). Sierra Boggess generously provided an extensive explanation of her various insights into Christine and what moments matter most to the character in my InDepth InterView with her last week, conducted when they were still rehearsing, and the fearless commitment and utterly spellbinding, majestic beauty she brought not only to the vocal and physical aspects of the role, but, most of all, to the drama at the heart and soul of the story, is what makes her Christine the one for the ages. This is it. "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" - a moment she told me was the one she particularly relishes performing - was not only the best sung since Brightman - no easy feat in and of itself - but, also, with an actorly commitment to character the likes of which you rarely see in the mega-musical genre of musical theatre. Those were real tears - and, at the end, as well, no doubt. In Hollywood terms - hey, this was broadcast in a cinema - this is the musical theatre equivalent of Meryl Streep acting - with a Raoul (already mentioned) and a Phantom to match: word for word, action for action, blow by blow and note for note. Heartbeat by heartbeat.

Ramin Karimloo is a force of nature and has the potential to be a star the likes of which we rarely see in this day and age - the names Hugh Jackman and Raul Esparza most immediately leap to my mind. Lets hope Hollywood doesn't snap him up just yet - though, after last year's Fathom presentation of LES MISERABLES and his gold standard Enjorlas in it, how could they not cast him in the 2012 (purportedly 3D) film? While I was floored with his touching and bold performance in LOVE NEVER DIES - a score I unabashedly love and feel is every bit PHANTOM's equal, with a fair share of its crowning glories done even better thanks to his superlative skills - in last night's PHANTOM 25 a leading man with the voice of a god, the acting ability of Al Pacino and the charismatic swagger of a million Hollywood studs had the chance to show the world everything he can bring to a role and what he can bring to the table - live, no less - and it was a feast for the senses in every imaginable way. Consider the banquet table flipped on its head - and the role itself, too.The final lair scene was something so spectacularly emotional as to be corrosive to the heart and soul - and tear ducts. Speaking of tears, never before has a "Music Of The Night" moved me quite so much. Ever. Karimloo's palpable, erotic chemistry with Boggess made their relationship - and, as a result, the experience of the entire show itself - more complex, dynamic and rich than I had ever thought possible. And, how much more sexual tension could you ever ask for than in the first Lair scene with the Phantom and Christine? Has the "Angel of Music" scene ever been more seductive - or scary? Has "All I Ask of You" and its thrilling reprise ever held such romantic sway as they did last night - or chilling irony when it is reprised at the end by the Phantom? Has the opera bouffe ever been funnier? Has the show ever been more moving and emotional and fresh as it felt last night? No. It has not. As I said at the beginning: Wow. Three letters say it all, really.

Perhaps it was the heady combination of this super-special presentation, the perfect casting, the most sumptuous the score has ever sounded (thanks to a 100 piece orchestra, which somehow even outdid the sonorousness of the movie soundtrack) and it being merely the biggest celebration of the most successful and longest-running musical in Broadway history that made last night one of the most memorable and fantastic theatre-going experiences of my life. Yes, maybe it was just the sweet, sweet intoxication of it all that made me love PHANTOM 25 as much as I did. I suppose that if you can pick your jaw up off of the floor long enough to do so: drink it up - I sure did. Slurp.

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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)