And, before I properly begin - HOLY CHRIST IT'S HOT. Apparently it's meant to snow by the end of the week, after averaging about 30 degrees on Saturday just gone. I second flatline2010's Facebook status - the world is broken.
Anyway, we - Paul, David, my mum and I - went to see Phantom of the Opera last night for its 25th anniversary performance at the Royal Albert Hall - via Vue at Star City, I should say, as tickets for the Albert Hall were £25 for standing only - up in the gods and riiiiight at the back - and £250 per person for a box seat. Frankly, none of us are that rich. :P
We had seats at the middle in the back, which actually were okay because it was showing on Screen 1. I suspect this is better treatment than it would have received at Cineworld had they gotten their grubby paws on it - their description of the plot was decidedly sarcastic on their Twitter feed, to say the least...
The concert / show is being released on DVD and Bluray in November so be warned that if any POTO fans on my f-list are reading this, there will be specific, performance-related spoilers... It was streamed live around the world in any event (and apparently not-so-live as I think there are further showings this week), though obviously taking time zones into account, people may well have missed it.
It was sort of odd, watching it on a big screen. I'm used to 'televised' or filmed versions of musicals because obviously the Cats video/DVD was filmed on stage, and Les Miserables has done two concert versions for its 10th and 25th anniversaries respectively - the first of which was also at the Albert Hall. Perhaps the weirdest part was not applauding - though from what I can gather, a few cinema-goers did applaud anyway.
I shall start by describing the set. The London production at Her Majesty's is very opulent and complex, but as the RAH production was only for three performances (Saturday evening, Sunday matinee and evening), the set was more minimalist. It mostly comprised two staircases and two backdrops set some distance apart - one full height and the other about three-quarters of that and several feet further forward, which also served as the orchestra 'pit' (or balcony, I suppose) and occasional podium for Erik. Various elements of scenery were then projected onto the backdrops, from the managers' office to the curtains. In the middle of the frontwards backdrop was a sliding panel which served as doorways and the mirror, amongst other things. In terms of actual set pieces, these were very minimal - a desk in the office, Christine's dressing table, the trappings of Erik's lair, etc... For the Masquerade sequence there was another staircase in the centre to emulate the Grand Escalier at the Opera House, with the building's high ceiling projected onto the backmost diorama - I enjoyed that bit. :)
It reminded me a lot of the approach to The Woman in White, which had a semi-circular, rotating diorama (utilising the Palace Theatre's unique stage), upon which various backgrounds were projected. I like this reversion of the Brechtian concept very much indeed. (Brecht would have a white background upon which descriptive phrases were projected, such as "A deserted road", rather than traditional painted backdrops. His aim was to completely alienate the audience rather than suck them in. Obviously, musicals achieve the opposite effect by drawing you in completely...)
The cast were all amazing, even the incidental characters. Christine was played by Sierra Bogess, and Raoul by Hadley Fraser, whilst Erik was played by Ramin Karimloo, who was playing him in Love Never Dies at the Adelphi before it closed in August. He has certainly come a long way from playing Artie / understudying Joe in the Sunset UK tour! As I don't attend POTO regularly and don't keep track of cast changes, I have no idea if the cast are currently in London or just infamous in their own right, but in any event, all three of the leads were pretty damn good.
The managers were excellent for their comic relief (I preferred Andre to Firmin but he does have the better lines, and brilliant comic timing), as was Carlotta, and Piangi to a lesser degree. They were just overblown enough without being caricatures. Giry was also brilliant, as was Meg - though I was a little distracted by her being the spit of a young Caroline Quentin...
The main thing - aside from not being able to applaud - which was odd and somewhat unsettling was that the chandelier was fixed to the ceiling. The point at which I burst into tears in the London production, when I finally saw it at a cognisant age, was when the fanfare started and the chandelier began to rise from the stage to take its rightful place above the audience. In the RAH production it was covered by a sheet with its "lot number" printed on it, with the sheet then being pulled away as the chandelier slowly lit up. Similarly, at the end of Act One, rather than falling to the stage (and terrifying any first-time audience members!), it turned itself off in a display of sparks. That was a bit weird, but understandable given the location; finagling the rising / dropping of it would have been near impossible.
Also, there were a few minor lyrics changes, which admittedly occurred several years back, though to purists they're a little jarring. ;)
The other somewhat odd thing was the make-up. Obviously they had to try and find a balance between making it obvious enough for the live audience, without being too heavy-handed on film. I think they achieved that quite well, though of course there is no way to conceal mics or (in Christine's case) securing-hairpins on costumes. Still, though, it gave it a very real, theatrical element. I'm actually really glad we DID see it at the cinema, as even in the expensive seats it would have been too far away to really see things properly, and at least with it being filmed you have the luxury of close-ups. :)
My favourite scene - of course - is the final showdown between Erik, Christine and Raoul. I've seen it played a few different ways in my time, including how it appears in my own head to the soundtrack (constructed from promo shots and what I know of the staging), and this was a new beast again. With Christine's 'choice', I think I've only ever seen it done with there being one kiss. Just one kiss, which changes everything. For this production, there were two, which was a pleasant surprise indeed. I enjoyed Erik's range of expression especially: first the sort of pained surprise, because Christine's made that choice and he's driven her to it (I think in some respects he regrets that ultimatum as soon as it's been voiced), swiftly followed by genuine confusion and the realisation that he has to let her go, muttering to himself in total confusion.
That second kiss really brings another level to it. All the fanfic (yes, mine included; I'm a sheep) goes with the theory that the kiss changes everything, whether consciously on Christine's part or not. The second one here is the real clincher; it's entirely conscious and nothing at all to do with her 'choice' or saving Raoul or any of the other complicated mess that's already ensued. It's almost like an affirmation that it meant something, that she’s trying to drill into his head somehow that it wasn’t just to save Raoul. I'd also forgotten, until reading others' thoughts on the scene upon getting home, that he put his hands over hers and pulls them away from his face... It literally had every element of uber-shippiness I could have wished for.
I've seen it mentioned that they played the scene with the outcome of Love Never Dies in mind. I haven't seen LND as I didn't have the chance to traipse to London and queue for half-price tickets; thankfully it seems they're going to live-stream a performance of that in the near future, too. The staging looks fantastic, and what I've heard of the instrumentals sound amazing, but there are some dubious characterisation issues and I know how the Forsyth novel ends. (In fairness, when ALW explained the concept of the story himself, it sounded much better; Forsyth just messed it up beyond recognition.) So, knowing what I do about the plot of LND from Phantom of Manhattan (even the title is awful!), I can kind of see where they're coming from - even if Forsyth never understood the Erik/Christine dynamic properly, apparently LND does, which gives me hope it will be, if not amazing, then at least halfway decent.
There's another key point of the final lair scene, which is when Christine returns one last time to give Erik back his engagement ring. I'm actually going to describe this bit sort of in reverse. Just before she finally leaves again with Raoul the two of them repeat the chorus from "All I Ask of You", namely:-
Christine: Say you'll share with me / One love, one lifetime/
Say the word and I will follow you…
Raoul: Share each day with me…
Christine: Each night…
Both: Each morning...
This is then followed by Erik's final line, taking over the melody. Now, back when I saw the 1998 UK tour in Birmingham, it prompted by very first POTO fanfic - albeit not until several years later when I was listening to the soundtrack again – because for some reason I pictured Christine singing her line not to Raoul, but to Erik. In most versions they’re in the boat crossing the lake as the lines are sung, and I imagined her singing it out into the darkness, back towards the house. Again, it’s an affirmation of what could have been, but can never be.
During the RAH performance and those two lines of song, rather than she and Raoul being in the boat to cross the lake, Christine was halfway up the stairs, between Raoul and Erik, not looking at either of them. She can’t bring herself to sing the words to Raoul, but equally she isn’t quite brave enough to sing them to Erik, either. He wasn’t looking at her at this point (IIRC) and Raoul had only come to fetch her back, so neither of them have realised the connotations of her (lack of) eye contact.
Just before that, however, is the part where she briefly returns. They actually filmed/edited this really well – and here it was a prime example of the filmed live-stream being better than the stage viewing – focusing completely on Erik as he repeats the verse of “Masquerade” to himself. I was aware of some movement on the steps behind him, but only because I knew what was coming; if one was unaware of the staging or had never seen it before, then the subsequent wide shot revealing Christine’s presence on the stairs would definitely be a surprise.
This particular scene was also in my first fic, because it’s utterly heart-breaking every time, no matter how its played. Usually she hesitates a moment before handing back the ring, their hands touch briefly and she turns to go. Once again I think they must have been playing it with LND in mind, however. Christine held out the ring to him and he grasped his hands in hers (perhaps trying to make her keep it), pleading his love in an echo of Raoul’s words on the rooftop. Christine fell to her knees and kissed his hand, distraught, before turning to leave – and then we have the part mentioned above.
At the time I think I was too caught up in the moment to really think about it, but on getting home I was consumed by a fervent desire for MOAR PHANTOM. I read a bit of fanfic but was much too tired to really get into it, so instead I fished Kay’s Phantom off the shelf and (shamefully, as I was intending to leave it until I reached that point of the bookcase) went to find the Erik/Christine counterpoint chapters at the end of the book. As a quick fix it was worth it, though I then went and re-read the first chapter, even though I’m supposed to be finishing Hunchback…
As if the harrowing ending wasn’t enough, the finale of the show itself was utterly amazing. The cast came out to do their final bows, starting with the ensemble, then the minor characters, then Raoul, Christine and Erik – each time the ensemble, arranged in two groups, separated a little more for their entrances. Then Andrew Lloyd Webber himself emerged in the same manner and gave a little speech (telling people to sit down as he might go on a bit :D) and thanked the cast. He brought in Cameron Mackintosh and the production team, then the original London production crew comprising Gillian Lynne, Hal Prince, etc. He then introduced the original London cast (with a few notable absences due to actors sadly passing on, such as Steve Barton). He also gave a little dedication to the late Maria Bjornsson, the original costume and stage designer, who passed away in 2002.
This next bit was my favourite part of the night, actually. He introduced Michael Crawford, who had “hot-footed it from the London Palladium” (where he’s currently starring in Wizard of Oz) to be there. Michael emerged to rapturous applause and literally the entire audience giving a standing ovation, and his bottom lip was visibly quivering. It was absolutely amazing; there was so much love in the building at that moment, and I really don’t think he was expecting it. We had a bit of a discussion after over whether they’d done that every night, but the consensus was that Michael’s reaction implied they hadn't, and it seemed a lot of effort to go to otherwise. It made our decision to see it on the Sunday night all the better, too. :)
Next it all went a little bit cheesy as Sarah Brightman also came out – much luvvee hugging and whatnot, though it was quite nice seeing Ramin/Sierra vs Michael/Sarah on the same stage – and indulged the audience in a rendition of the title song. She was accompanied by four ex-Phantoms. I recognised Colm Wilkinson (can’t quite get over him as Erik as he’s so perfect as Valjean…) and another whom I and my mum both thought was Dave Willetts, though it turned out not to be. Three of them were good, one slightly less so, but they were all taking turns singing the Phantom’s part in the song, ending with each of them imploring, “Sing for me!” at the end, with Ramin joining in for the final bit. It was… midway between cringeworthy and awesome, and I can’t really decide which of those takes precedence. ;)
Then everyone on stage began a chorus of “Music of the Night” (I think, I can’t quite remember), which made me very sad that Michael can’t sing any more (he’s playing the Wizard at the Palladium, which I assume is a non-singing part), as that would most definitely have been the high point of the evening. I'm so insanely grateful I got to see him in Woman in White before he became ill, as that may well have been his last ever performance. He did join in for the final note at least, and then there were fireworks and streamers coming from the ceiling. It was actually pretty amazing.
I forgot to mention that before the main ‘feature’ there was a half-hour documentary about the show’s history, and some video footage of various productions over the years from 1986 onwards. There was also a trailer (of sorts) for Love Never Dies which advised of the live-streamed performance coming soon, as well as the 2012 UK tour being “unveiled soon”, both of which are quite exciting prospects.
I think it pertinent to note that throughout all this Phantom-love, there was absolutely no mention in any form of the 2004 movie. This was despite the live stream being produced by an American company with Americanised voice-overs, etc. I find this oddly gratifying. I’m kind of reaching a point now where being angry about the film won’t change anything, and the only way to get over it is to look at it as a parody. It’s a sad truth, and it shouldn’t have been that way, but at least when the concert DVD comes out next month we’ll have a proper version to shame the horrible movie into submission… I can deal with Ramin-fangirls better than I can deal with Gerard Butler phanbrats. :P
I totally wish Sunset Boulevard were so popular, but alas I feel a 25th anniversary performance of it may be a distant dream. Although at this rate the movie version is never going to get made either, so I suppose that's a blessing in disguise. ;)
Needless to say, I am now suitably reinspired to finish "Whisper", my latest POTO fic, though I may have to change tactic slightly. I hadn't intended on there being any Erik/Christine interaction in the story at all, because it's set after the end of the musical/book. Christine, believing Erik to be dead, has an emotional meltdown, calls off her wedding to Raoul and decides to emigrate to England; the entire story takes place on the boat, as she reminisces about the events after Don Juan Triumphant. There are scenes that involve Christine with Meg, Nadir Khan and Raoul respectively, with only a brief flashback to the first unmasking scene; aside from that there's no Erik/Christine scenes. After the Choice scene last night, however, I kind of want to put that in as her last reminiscence before the boat lands, as actually it will tie in very well with my ending and the direction the story is going. If only because I want to get it written down in much the same way as my Tangofic - although at least, come November, I will have the luxury of an actual visual reference. ;)
Watch this space; I might even post it soon!
I was looking online for a photograph to post with this entry, but thanks to the 2004 movie being so prevalent, I failed. In any event, I was going to post a picture of the moment Erik draws Christine through the mirror, or more specifically the moment he actually appears, because basically it's the sexiest thing EVAR and I just... do not know why. Something about the cape and the mask and the smoke, I think; either that or I've finally gone mad. ;)
On that note, I shall flee.