By Emily Couch
LONDON, England – The 25th anniversary return of the phenomenal best-selling musical Phantom of the Opera had to be one of the most anticipated theatrical events in the last decade – and I was there.
In case you’ve missed it, the Phantom of the Opera is the story of a mysterious masked man in the depths of the Paris Opera House who falls in love with a beautiful young soprano called Christine Daae.
The masked man is known by all as the “Opera Ghost” and is the unseen master of all the goes on under the roof of the Opera Populaire and thus the bane of the lives of the new managers and prima donna, Carlotta Giudicelli.
Trouble starts when Christine’s childhood sweetheart, Raoul Vicomte de Chagny turns up on the doorstep and the two men engage in an epic battle to win her love. Who does Christine choose? I’ll leave that for you to guess.
Phantom had its debut in Her Majesties’ theatre in London’s West End in 1986 when it forged an unbreakable, intangible, magical bond with the audience that not even the composer could explain.
The Music of the Night has been enchanting audiences ever since.
For an avid “Phan” – the rather corny name ascribed to all those who worship at the shrine of Phantom – the event was rather like being the proverbial kid in a candy shop.
You end up staring around you in absolute awe not knowing whether to dig into the scrumptiously stellar cast or the luxurious dark-chocolate-y set and costume design. So you end up gorging yourself on both.
Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess led the cast as the Phantom and Christine. The dynamic duo had recently starred together in Love Never Dies, the Phantom sequel, as their respective roles so seeing them together in the original was a real treat.
They have an undeniable chemistry on stage which created an almost tangible heat, which added to the already tropical climate of the Royal Albert Hall.
Karimloo’s voice has to be heard to be believed. It has a remarkable strength and power which makes it perfect for the role of the imposing and omnipotent Phantom.
Sierra was a true angel of music. For me, she is Christine Daae personified. I fell in love with her in Love Never Dies, so seeing her perform in the original was a dream.
Her voice soared and dived through the music with her beautiful coloratura shining through. The operatic training she underwent for her recent Broadway stint in Master Class helped her voice to sound even more perfect for the young ingénue of the Paris Opera!
Her finest moment was without a doubt her breathtaking rendition of “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.”
What I would give to be able to sing like her! It is abundantly clear why Andrew Lloyd Webber chose her specifically for first Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular then Love Never Dies and now Phantom 25th.
These celebrations firmly established her as a star of the West End as well as Broadway.
As for the chorus, well, they were the cream of the West End. Stars included Sofia Escobar, Robyn North, Simon Bailey and Earl Carpenter, among many talented voices.
“Drink it in, drink it up, ’til you drown in the lights in the sound…” the line from Masquerade is an apt way to describe Phantom’s phenomenal set and costume. The creative team did an admirable job of recreating the set in the Albert Hall.
If one were to be picky, the signature chandelier crash was missed but the fireworks did compensate somewhat.
Jon Driscoll, who seems to have the monopoly on the projections of West End shows, did a great job of transferring Maria Bjornson’s set design onto a screen.
Fittingly, the costumes were all done to Maria Bjornson’s beautiful designs. I’m sure she would have been proud to see her masterpieces celebrate their 25th year.
The cherry on top of the afternoon was without a doubt the finale and guest appearances.
Despite tears streaming down my face through out, I don’t think it was possible for me to enjoy it more than I did. I am not the easily “gob-smacked” sort but I must say my jaw did drop a few inches when Lord Lloyd Webber made his appearance.
I found out that, yes, he really does breathe the same air as we mere audience members.
Seeing him join Cameron Mackintosh, Gillian Lynne and Charles Hart on stage was surreal. I could not believe it when Sarah Brightman came center stage (adoringly introduced as “My Angel of Music” by Webber) and sang “Phantom of the Opera” with John Owen Jones, Colm Wilkinson, Anthony Warlow and Peter Jobak.
I wished my ears and eyes could record that truly beautiful moment!
All in all, Phantom 25 was an unforgettable experience. I want to say a massive thank you to Andrew Lloyd Webber for creating such a magnum opus of musical theatre.
I think we can safely say that contrary to the Phantom’s line in the final lair, the Music of the Night is not over, it is only just beginning.