I was expecting to be blown away by this performance, simple as that. I’m not someone who tends to spend 180 quid on a single theatre ticket. I mean, come on, I can see Jersey Boys 9 times for that amount of money! But this was a special occasion and we’re talking about my most likely last chance to see Ramin Karimloo in the original Phantom of the Opera. So yes, I did get a ridiculously expensive ticket for the Sunday evening performance of the 25th anniversary of The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall. Well, technically I didn’t because I have the best parents in the world who sponsored my ticket as an early birthday present.
But still, it was a lot of money for one single ticket and I wanted to experience something special for a price like this.
I should point out that I am not a Phan (as the fans of the show call themselves) and I have only seen the Phantom of the Opera once and that was years and years ago. So I can’t compare this anniversary production to any other productions of the show and I’ve got nothing to compare the performers to. What I can and will do is write down my personal view of the evening.
First of all, the Royal Albert Hall is a pretty impressive venue. I arrived a little late so didn’t have the time to fully appreciate it before the show. But just walking into the auditorium and seeing the size of the whole place was a memorable experience. The biggest surprise of the evening happened right then (well, apart from running into Dane Quixall right before the show – London really is a village!) when I got to my seat. When I booked the ticket the seating plan indicated that I was sitting in front arena, right hand side, aisle seat, 4 rows from the stage. However I discovered that the rows in front of me had been taken out which transformed my cool 4th row seat into a super-cool front row seat. To say I was happy would be the understatement of the year!
The show itself was… I don’t even know how to put it into words. To sum it up with a simple “Amazing!!” doesn’t give the whole thing justice. But it’s hard to sum up an event like this. There was the absolutely fantastic cast lead by Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess who both delivered the performance of a lifetime. I have seen the two on stage together in Love Never Dies various times and have always admired their stage chemistry. To see them play the leads in the original Phantom of the Opera was a dream come true. Sierra’s voice and stage presence was even better than in Love Never Dies and Ramin showed off that he is both a brilliant actor and one of the best singers the West End has ever seen. It was clearly visible how well those two get along. They work together perfectly. Ramin’s Phantom was passionate and angry, yet also vulnerable. His “Music of the night” was everything I hoped it would be. And Sierra’s Christine was breathtakingly beautiful with a voice to die for. Her “Think of me” was simply stunning. For me the two were perfection.
Hadley Fraser as Raoul was the third person I had really been looking forward to seeing that night. I love Hadley’s Javert in Les Miserables plus he is one half of Sheytoons (alongside Ramin Karimloo). It’s fantastic to see him finally getting the attention he deserves as I think he is one of the most underated performers in the West End. Hadley is such a talented singer and actor and I loved his portrayal of Raoul. Some people have written that his Raoul was too arrogant and his voice too weak but I honestly can’t go along with those opinions. For me his Raoul came across as very sure of himself – a guy who knows exactly what he wants – and I think that fit perfectly. And I adore Hadley’s voice – he and Sierra sounded beautifully in “All I ask of you”.
The rest of the cast did a great job as well and it was quite a sight to see such a huge ensemble fill the stage. I was particularly impressed by “Masquerade”.
The set was a clever mix between set and projection screens. Some scenes might have worked better in a more intimate venue but all in all I thought the way this show was staged was very well done. They even had the big chandelier which was quite the sight. Yes, it would have been even better to have less projections and more set but I can see the reason for staging the show the way it was done. And it worked and didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the performance.
For the big finale we first got a speech by both Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh and appearances by the original creative team and the original London cast of the show. Following that was a choral arranement of “The Music of the night” sung by Colm Wilkinson, Jon Owen Jones, Anthony Warlow and Peter Jöback – impressive although I am not really sure Peter Jöback’s voice is suited for the part (everyone shall find out when he joins the London cast in March 2012). Of course, a Phantom anniversary wouldn’t be complete without the original Phantom and Christine. Sarah Brightman sang the title track of the show together with 5 Phantoms (the ones named before plus Ramin Karimloo). It was a memorable moment to see her on stage that evening but I have to admit I was rather disappointed with her singing. Her voice was almost drowned out by the music and the high note at the end was clearly click tracked.
Michael Crawford took a bow at the end of the show and seemed completely overwhelmed by the response of the audience (everyone was on their feet as soon as he came on stage) but didn’t sing. The show ended with Ramin and Sierra taking an extra bow (after being pushed back on stage by Colm Wilkinson) and Ramin carrying Sierra off stage which was a lovely ending to a fantastic evening.
I admit I’m not a big fan of most of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows and The Phantom of the Opera will never be amongst my favourite shows. But to be part of this anniversary was something I will cherish forever and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I was expecting to be blown away by this performance – and I was.
Thanks to Sarah for the first photo.
Credit for the other 3 photos goes to wooller.com.