Saturday, 8 October 2011

Phantom of the Opera (Andrew Lloyd Webber stage version)

I managed to watch a really high-quality recording of the recent 25th anniversary concert of Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall last night and it was amazing : ) The acting and singing was fantastic, Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess were the standouts of course (making up for Love Never Dies) but everyone was on top form. It was a vastly superior adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber stageshow than the 2004 movie (which I've already reviewed) and a much better anniversary concert than the recent Les Miserables 25th anniversary concert at the O2 Arena. If you still aren't familiar with the musical then I would seriously suggest getting the DVD when it comes out because it would make for a brilliant introduction to the show!

I've been meaning to write a review of Love Never Dies for a while but I figured that I couldn't really do that without reviewing the original musical first, because to understand how bad the sequel is you really need to have an understanding of how good the original musical is. I've seen the ALW stageshow live once before but seeing the 25th anniversary concert last night reminded me of just how great the show is.

Phantom of the Opera was one of the first musicals that properly got me into musicals in the first place so I'm always going to defend it. I'd already read Gaston Leroux's novel and loved it so I was eager to see the musical. The story of the ALW musical is noticeably different to Leroux's novel in a lot of ways (and I believe I've already mentioned some of these differences in other POTO reviews that I've done). However, I still consider the ALW musical to be a mostly faithful adaptation of Leroux's novel. It's certainly a lot more accurate than many other versions I've seen! Most of the major events and plot-points of Leroux's book feature in the musical and it's true to the spirit of the book.

So how good is the show? Well, since it's a musical, I think I can start with the music. It's beautiful, the best all round score that ALW has ever written in my opinion. No matter how fashionable it is to knock ALW musicals these days, and no matter how much some of his more recent shows may suck (*cough Love Never Dies cough*), I think you'd have to be silly if you said that the score for Phantom of the Opera isn't really high-quality stuff. My personal favourite songs are Phantom of the Opera, Music of the Night, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again and Wandering Child. However, almost every song in the show is beautiful and memorable. Richard Stilgoe's lyrics are witty and clever and Charles Hart's lyrics are passionate and heartfelt.

The set design and staging for the show is absolutely fantastic too, with the Phantom and Christine's journey to the lair across an underground lake being an unforgettable experience. It's great, great theatre. The Masquerade ball scene is much better in the stage version than it is in the 2004 movie too. The choreography is much better. The costumes are far better, especially the Phantom's Red Death outfit. Look at the difference between Gerard Butler's prettyboy costume and the monstrous demon from Hell outfit from the stage version.

The characters are entertaining too. The Phantom is obviously the show's most fascinating and best-developed character and it's an iconic role. I do really like the managers though as well. They're conceited, pompous and completely clueless as to how to run an opera house but they're pretty funny. Carlotta and Piangi also provide some laughs. Madame Giry is stern and mysterious but is ultimately kind and compassionate. Christine Daae is naive but an innocent and lovely girl and I really like Raoul too. I know this will be controversial but I actually prefer Musical Raoul over Leroux Raoul. The finale is fantastic too and is possibly the best finale to a musical ever. Although Les Miserables is still my favourite musical, ALW's Phantom of the Opera is a very, very close second.

The reason that POTO doesn't quite measure up to Les Mis is down to two reasons.

  1. Because as great as POTO is it doesn't quite measure up to Les Mis as the characters and plot have more depth in that show.
  2. Because I do have one or two criticisms of the stage version. There are a few things that I'm not so keen on in the stage version. These aren't major faults though and I still really love the stageshow. I guess I'm just nitpicking.
First of all, the prologue where we have Raoul as an old man at the auction house just isn't very interesting. It's not creepy and its only real function seems to be as a means of getting the chandelier up at the beginning of the first act. The 2004 movie gave this scene a bit more purpose by including a few extra scenes of Old Raoul making his pilgrimage to Christine's grave. But in the stage version we never see Old Raoul again. So what's the point? The scene where the characters are rehearsing a scene from an opera after the prologue is a bit boring too. At this point I can easily imagine blokes who know nothing about the show, and have been dragged along to see it by their wives/girlfriends, sitting there and thinking "Is this what the whole show is going to be like?! Kill me now!"

Now one of the common criticisms against the 2004 movie is that it removes the elements of magic and mystery about the Phantom - but I don't agree. The 2004 movie actually fixed one of the things that I'm not so keen on in the stage version. From Gaston Leroux's novel we know that the Phantom is a magician, a ventriloquist, an inventor and an illusionist. But he's NOT a ghost and he has no supernatural powers whatsoever. So how come he gets to do all this magical stuff in the stage version? The first time I saw the show I just assumed that these were just magic tricks that were never explained to the audience but it is quite strange the more I think about. How can he laugh maniacally and throw his voice at the same time? How can he magically make a piano play all by itself? If it's a trick then why would he go to all that trouble? And how does he vanish into thin air at the end when Meg Giry enters his lair? Did he set up a complex illusion just in case anyone ever managed to get down to his lair and he wanted to impress them with his magic skills? And the fact that the Phantom shoots fireballs from a staff at Christine and Raoul in the cemetery scene doesn't make any sense either. He's not Gandalf the Grey or Professor Dumbledore, he's a human being. At least in the 2004 movie they obviously realised that this scene would look silly and changed it to the Phantom and Raoul having a swordfight instead. It is more believable although this scene ended up looking silly too. The organ music is annoying and the fact that Raoul actually beats the Phantom in the swordfight removes all the menace out of the Phantom's character, when he's pretty much an emo wussy in that version anyway. How can Raoul beat the freakin' Phantom of the Opera anyway?! But I'm getting sidetracked.

So to sum up: the stage version is awesome and you should definitely see it live at least once if you consider yourself a POTO fan. You'd definitely enjoy it and it makes for a great day/night out.

Rating: 5/5

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