I went to Denise's on Saturday, initially because we were going to continue the Buffy-athon, but instead I
POTO is a really weird thing. I fall in and out of it regularly, and the the only time I fall back into it is after actually seeing/reading some version of it. I finished "Whisper" in a creative flurry after my first viewing of the gala concert; "Freedom from Darkness" (my first proper POTO fic) and its sequels came from the germ of an idea after I first saw the show in Birmingham, aged 16; and my Mary Sue story / A-Level creative writing assignment was written following my first reading of Susan Kay's Phantom. When I'm not flailing about it, though, I kind of forget the power it has over me. I'll go for months - even years - without reading/writing fanfic or even thinking it about it at all. I still count it as a fandom, of course, and it's always there in the periphery of my mind, but until the point when it actually takes over my head again I tend to file it away somewhat as one of those frivolous fandoms of my youth.
Although if the recent rewatches have proven anything, it's that those so-called frivolous fandoms of my youth were more important than I gave them credit for. ;)
Anyway, the point is, it's the most horrendously addictive thing in the world. I can remember listening to the soundtrack almost constantly on several occasions in my teens and 20's, and nowadays, each and every time I've watched the 25th anniversary gala, I am overcome by the desire for MOAR PHANTOM.
That being said, because it's been 1.5 years since the gala concert and because I've watched it three more times since then - which isn't much in the grand scheme of things but if I were still a student I imagine that number would be more like 300 - I felt like doing an entry about some of my favourite things about the performance...
These will be in no particular order except hopefully vaguely plot-chronological...
- I think I mentioned the sets in my first write-up but it's worth mentioning them again. Considering the difficulties they must have had in turning the Royal Albert Hall's interior into a "theatre", a lot of the differences and missing elements can be forgiven: such as the non-dropping chandelier, for example, and the minimalist set. I think actually the digital backdrops gave more scope for creating the scene, as my personal favourites were the rooftop, the graveyard and the grand staircase. Where before there was an abundance of draperies and lavish set-pieces, the photo-realistic digital backdrops gave a proper sense of actually being at the Palais Garnier.
It would have been amazing if they'd filmed it at Her Majesty's, the theatre where it has played in London for the past 25 years, but the capacity is certainly not as large as the RAH, and neither is it such an obviously prestigious venue. They could easily have gone down a full-on "concert" route with it like the 10th anniversary Les Misérables concert that was held in the same venue, but I think they made a brave choice in finding a balance between the two, and in actually trying to remain true to the staging. There are so many moments in the show that are dependent on the character dynamics and the blocking, and a true concert would not have done any justice to it.
- Carlotta is pitch-perfect in every sense of the word. Piangi is also pretty good, though he has less to do. In that same vein, both Andre and Firmin have epic comedy timing - Andre in particular, especially during the Il Muto sequence when he requests/demands "The ballet... NOW!" But at least Andre seems to actually enjoy his job; Firmin comes across with this world-weary, no-nonsense demeanour that implies the very last thing he wanted to do with his life was manage a theatre, let alone one plagued by supposed ghosts. :)
- All three of the main cast members are astonishingly good. Hadley Fraser makes a domineering yet concerned Raoul, perhaps the first portrayal where he's more than just a bumbling fop. Obviously, he is constrained by the script to quite a degree - there's not much you can do to improve the fact that he uses Christine as bait, for example - but it makes a change to see a Raoul who is more than a caricature. I still feel like their relationship is based on a rather tenuous concept, at best - no less tenuous than Erik/Christine, of course - but at least Hadley makes a good effort of making Raoul likeable even when he's being overly patronising. ;)
Sierra Boggess is maybe the best Christine I've ever seen - whilst I'm sure that every portrayal since Sarah Brightman has been influenced by her performance to some degree, Sierra takes the character and just blows all your preconceptions out of the water. I will talk more about her shortly, but honestly, the power and raw emotion in some of her delivery is just... augh, FEELS.
And Ramin Karimloo, how far he's come! Would you believe at one point he was the understudy for Jeremy Finch in the UK tour of Sunset Boulevard? He took over from Lee Ormsby about halfway through the last leg of the run, so the last time I saw him was when he was playing Artie. The fact that he went on to play the Phantom both in Love Never Dies AND the POTO 25 gala is just mind-blowing. (I'm still sad that Jeremy never got the recognition he deserved, though - I would have loved to see him as the Phantom one day, with all those soaring high notes and a voice that turns your spine to custard. :D Such a waste of talent. Ah well.)
Actually, whilst I'm on that note - the Auctioneer at the start is played by Earl Carpenter, whom I saw playing the Phantom in London back in 2005ish. He was... I actually can't remember - I've just gone back to read my LJ entry from then and it's maddeningly unhelpful, but perhaps that says it all. ;) Anyway, Earl Carpenter was also the original Joe of that UK Sunset tour, understudied by Jeremy Finch, before he threw a hissy fit about Faith Brown being more famous and quit the show. (I am totally not complaining about that.) I dunno, I just love the fact that the understudy of his understudy is now playing his former lead role. That's what you get for being a diva. :P
But yes, Ramin. Excellent chemistry with Sierra and lots of lovely little nuances which I will mention in a bit. They were both in LND - and I know a lot of new POTO productions now have been re-staged with the LND outcome in mind - so it must be really interesting for them to be playing the younger versions of the characters now, and bringing all those elements into the performance. It adds a whole new dimension. The Final Lair scene is a real shining moment for all three of them, but Ramin especially - alternating at breakneck speed between rage, despair, devastating love and steely determination.
- The costumes are just... GUH. The late Maria Bjornsson's designs for the original production were inimitably gorgeous and the costumes for the gala production are stunning, taking all of her good work and adding extra spangles. The "Maskerade" sequence especially is beautiful, but also the Il Muto outfits, Christine's blue cloak in "Wishing...", and basically Carlotta's entire wardrobe. AND ERIK'S OPERA CAPE, with all the sequins and detail - a subtle reminder of his dubiously-acquired wealth and SO SO PRETTY.
- That being said, I actually sort of miss the old Red Death outfit with the fake arm, where the skeleton mask's jaw was controlled by the actor's hand rather than being a separately articulated mask-piece. Though I guess the non-fake arm allows Erik to throw the score at the managers, emphasising his sense of self-importance and command of the room. I also miss him snapping the chain of Christine's 'secret' engagement ring - it gives more import to "Your chains are still mine!" Though in fairness, hiding the ring on said chain is a bit stupid considering her decolletage is on show and Erik is not exactly unobservant - not to mention the fact he has eyes and ears in every darkened corner. So I guess it's nice that she's not so stupid as to think hiding it about her person will fool him. ;)
- Moving on to "Angel of Music", leading into the title song. That bit with Erik emerging through the smoke in the mirror? Still inexplicably sexy. GUH.
A bit later on during the title song there's this really awesome, probably accidental moment during the "Sing for me!" part, when the dry ice looks as though it's emerging from Christine's mouth, like a part of her has been released (or maybe lost?) It reminded me a lot of Ariel giving up her voice in The Little Mermaid. I may try and get a screencap of it just so I can watch again - someone did a GIF of it on Tumblr and it looks like Ramin actually does throw something into the air to create that effect - or the movement of his hand disturbs the atmosphere - so if it was intentional then massive kudos, and if not then it's a brilliant coincidence. :D
- One of my small gripes with the DVD version is that the sound levels are all over the place, with the dialogue being practically inaudible but then the music - That Fanfare, in particular - melting your face off when it kicks in. That being said, I need to watch it again regardless of sound levels and actually give MOTN the due consideration it deserves, without having to constantly alter the volume. Not least because of all the Erik/Christine feels. :D
- Another tiny gripe (very, very tiny) is that we nearly get a full-face glimpse of Erik's unmasked face during the first unmasking. In the theatre this does not happen, as we only ever see the unmarred side, and the proper reveal comes in PONR later on. I think that was a poor directorial choice, and very much a deviation from tradition.
- I love Il Muto for the way it highlights how completely batshit insane the plots of most operas are. Don Juan Triumphant also does this, though it's less batshit and more WTF with all the twists and turns and mistaken identities. I wish I knew more about opera so I could identify the references more properly. I always think Il Muto is supposed to be Mozart-esque, but I think that's because of the costumes and because I'm probably wrongly remembering the similar, real-life aria that "Poor Fool" is based on as being by Mozart, when it probably isn't. Anyway, it doesn't especially matter, but all the send-ups are affectionate whilst being brilliant in their own right. I love that ALW let his operatic wings take flight in POTO to such a degree - there are so many beautiful bits of melody that are completely separate to the thematic elements, and the whole thing just works. :)
I think perhaps that's where LND really falls down. There's no sense of Christine actually being an opera singer any more - yes, she's been asked to New York by Oscar Hammerstein, but there's no actual opera anywhere to be heard. There are some nice bits of tune in there, which are sadly ruined by hamfisted lyrics (another area where POTO really shines is the rich imagery), but it has nothing of the grace and elegance of POTO, and nothing to really establish the setting effectively.
Anyway, if I start going on about LND again this entry will be even longer - maybe when I finally pluck up the courage to re-watch. :P
- "All I Ask Of You" next. I feel the same way about this song as I do about Sunset's "Too Much In Love To Care": I don't feel the pairing but the song is amazing. (Although, yeah, with Sunset the pairings are more complicated than that. :P) Hadley and Sierra both shine in this - it's one of the first times I've ever really gotten a sense of them actually being in love, rather than Christine clamouring for protection and Raoul playing the hero. Those elements are still there - Raoul is the safe choice, and Christine is still terrified of Erik despite the curiosity, pity and sympathy she already feels - but there's more joy in their performance than I've seen before. Christine really does believe that Raoul can protect her, to the point where even though she knows, deep down, that her ears have not deceived her and Erik is there, she lets her guard down enough to forget that entirely.
Having said that, there is still that element of Raoul coddling her and essentially giving her a pat on the head and telling her it'll be okay. It seems implausible for Raoul not to have heard Erik's echoing call on the rooftop, but he dismisses it out of hand nonetheless, even when Christine is so obviously distressed by it. In that respect, much of what occurs afterwards is partially his own fault - if he'd just given Christine a chance to explain rather than assuming she was delusional, perhaps they might have been more discrete.
- It's a shame about the chandelier not falling. I can completely understand how the practicalities of that would have been impossible, but it's such an iconic moment of almost every version of the story, and the end of Act One seems a bit... anti-climactic, without it.
- Moving into Act Two. "Twisted Every Way" has always been one of my favourite Christine moments - initially because I liked the pretty melody, but also because it's one of her many moments of clarity - even if said clarity is in itself a dilemma. The scene as a whole makes me dislike Raoul more than I do generally - in one breath he's reassuring Christine, in the next he's using her as bait. It's hardly any wonder she's so torn - yearning for the normal, safe life that she perceives Raoul can provide, but not wanting to appear ungrateful to her Angel of Music, despite everything. She is so very aware of where she's come from, how she's gotten to where she is, and where she wants to go, and it's a beautiful moment of ambivalence.
- Okay, so next I want to talk about "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" - another of my favourite songs. This is Sierra's shining moment, and perhaps one of the most glorious performances in the entire show. There is so much grief and so much power in her portrayal, and she just keeps it going long after the song has ended even through the audience's rapturous applause. It's absolutely stunning, and it makes Christine's vulnerability to Erik's hypnotism at that point so much more plausible. She is literally mad with grief at that point - so completely broken that when she hears that voice, despite knowing on some conscious level that it's not her father, and it's not the Angel of Music he promised her, she goes to Erik anyway. There's no fight left in her, and he knows that - and perhaps at any other time he might not have used his powers so cruelly, but she's already done too much damage to his heart and his trust, and the only tactics he's left with are deceit and illusion.
I think this is one of the first times I've properly appreciated how quickly everything spirals out of control because of one innocent mistake - be that allowing Raoul into her life again, or taking Erik's mask the first time. Christine is so completely unprepared for any of it; she starts out believing in a fairy tale, and ends up in a nightmare, but despite herself she cannot keep away; despite herself, she is drawn to the darkness, just as Erik is drawn to the light. And Raoul is just an innocent bystander who gets caught in the crossfire of these two desperate souls.
So yeah. Basically the gala brought out a lot of feels, and WYWSHA is just the tip of the iceberg.
- "Point of No Return" is full of the lovely little nuances from Ramin that I mentioned earlier, but Sierra is just as good. They play this scene perfectly. I'm always a little torn here as to whether Christine should realise it's Erik from the outset, purely because of the effect he has over her even when he's supposedly impersonating Piangi, or whether it's better for the realisation to come halfway through. In this case, it's the latter. Either way, there's a sense of "the show must go on" about it - Christine's professionalism coming to the fore even when she's realised what's happening, and then using Erik's tricks against him. The song is (obviously) about Don Juan seducing Aminta, and Erik takes the place of Piangi presumably to do just that - and because the very last place anyone will be looking for him is on stage with the person they're trying to protect - but Christine turns the tables on him.
The part I really, really like is when she reaches down for his hands and he's visibly shaking. Ramin does this throughout, in fact, which indicates a decent knowledge of the character's morphine addiction, but in this case I suspect it's not just because of the morphine. :P
The final few minutes of PONR are just... augh. Christine unveils him at the last minute because he will not let go of her wrist, and at that point self-preservation takes over. It's not so much about revealing him to the audience, but distracting him enough that he'll let her go. When he's making his entreaty of her, using the same words as she shared with Raoul on the rooftop, she realises she wasn't imagining that voice echoing through the shadows. Then she remembers about the line of pistols doubtless aimed at his head - and despite it all, she doesn't want him to die. Erik knows about Raoul's plan - he makes that abundantly clear by taunting them before the opera - but he's so distracted by Christine's apparent betrayal that he temporarily forgets he's an open target. So, when she unmasks him, it's because she knows it will make him disappear, not because she wants to humiliate him. I think on some level he understands that, but all of his logic is buried under the shock and rage.
- And finally, into the Final Lair scene - the show's crowning glory of emotional turmoil and crying fangirls the world over. ;)
I mentioned earlier how all three of the leads give this their all. Hadley does not have much to do, action wise, as Raoul is strung up by the Punjab Lasso for most of the scene - but his anguish and frustration are all too obvious, and the realisation that all his bravado has gotten him nowhere.
My favourite moment - apart from the obvious - is just before Erik allows Raoul to speak to Christine ("Let me see her!" / "Be my guest, sir...") Erik actually has Christine by the throat at that point and is completely, obliviously unaware of what he's doing until he's actually let her go. The look on his face, of sheer horror of what he was capable of, is a really important moment - he's so consumed by his hatred for Raoul that it takes over everything. He doesn't want to hurt Christine - we see that during the first unmasking, that despite his anger and disappointment he never actually hurts or threatens her - and the last thing he would want to do is damage her voice. When he realises what he's been doing he just sort of... deflates, and when he gathers the lasso to string Raoul up (also by the neck), it's almost perfunctory.
I'm pretty sure I enthused about the kiss(es) during my first write-up of this, but I don't care because I'm going to talk about it again. :P This is also played to absolute perfection, with so many tiny elements contributing to the whole. Ramin delivers the "Make your choice..." line with utter defeat, rather than challenge - he's practically resigned to the fact he will have to kill Raoul, and that he's lost Christine forever. He can't even bring himself to look at her, which is perhaps why she finds so much courage. She has to physically turn him around to face her, and the first kiss is almost brutal - she literally throws herself at him whilst she still has the nerve to do so.
THE LOOK ON HIS FACE AFTERWARDS. I can't even. So... confused and uncomprehending and JUST ALL MY FEELS, OKAY? Then as she lays her head against his chest with her hands on his arms - it's not quite an embrace because of the awkwardness of it all, but it's the best she can do - and he's still not quite sure whether or not it happened. As she looks up again it's almost like he's going to push her away, but then she just breaks him even further with the second kiss, and that's the point where my HEART EXPLODES, because she's actually holding his face in her hands, and it's basically the first human contact he's ever had which hasn't resulted in violence, pain or revulsion. He reaches up to remove her hands and he's shaking all over again and it's just heart-breaking, because it's in that moment that he understands what a selfless thing she's just done, and he has this moment of utter clarity that all the stupid ultimatums and threats were completely futile.
I'm a little irritated actually because the DVD edit is obviously made up of different bits from each of the three nights, and if my chapter of "Whisper" (where I transposed much of the action before it fell out of my head) is accurate, there was actually a point where their hands stayed in contact for a second and he was caressing her hand with his thumb - but it doesn't appear to be on the released version, which is a shame. :( I was there on the Sunday night (the last night), so I'm guessing emotions were running pretty high anyway by that point, and for whatever reason the DVD producers decided one of the other 'takes' was better.
My other favourite moment of the Final Lair is after Christine gives back the ring. I love that Erik's confession exactly echoes Raoul's from the end of Act One - except where Raoul's was carefree and light-hearted, Erik's is a desperate plea - one final, grasping hope because he has nothing left to lose. I also adore how they shot this, so that Christine's reappearance wasn't obvious until the wide shot - it's so much more effective than in the theatre where you see her approach.
That point where she breaks down is really poignant. There's a sense of unknowing realisation there, that she'd suspected all along his feelings for her without ever really acknowledging it, and then the words are out there and it can't be taken back. It's a simultaneous affirmation of that fact, and utter brokenness because she can't reciprocate even if she wants to. I actually remember the Sunday night performance being so raw, from Sierra in particular during that bit where she kisses his hand, and again the DVD edit is not quite so emotionally fraught. But it's still powerful stuff.
Another thing I love is Christine's positioning for the encore of "All I Ask Of You" - halfway up the stairs, between Raoul and Erik - and the line of her gaze. She sings the words, but she cannot honestly say in her heart if they are for Raoul or for Erik - if the former then she no longer feels it, and if the latter then it's too terrifying to contemplate. The thing is, back when I wrote "Freedom From Darkness", I pictured Christine singing those words from the boat (as the old staging used to do, i.e. Raoul and Christine singing to each other as they escaped) but back towards the lair, not to Raoul at all. I just love the fact that they're using that idea now as part of the canon, whether it's to tie in with LND or otherwise. It makes more sense that way.
- Wow, that was a long bullet point. ;)
- Just briefly, as this is now over 4000 words long and I have no idea where any of this came from, a few of my favourite bits from the every-cast-and-crew-member-ever bit at the end. During the curtain call as each of the three leads come out in order of importance (Hadley, Sierra, Ramin), and the two groups separating a little bit further each time; Cameron Mackintosh's massive gleeful smile whenever the camera focuses on him because he made it all possible but is basically just chuffed to be there; ALW being socially awkward as ever, especially around Sarah Brightman (put her down, Andrew, FFS!); the audience reaction to Michael Crawford and his quivering lower lip because he wasn't expecting it; the juxtaposition of Ramin/Sierra and Michael/Sarah; Ramin's reverent greeting to Michael which is just so respectful and GUH; everyone getting covered in confetti but especially Sierra and her silly facial expressions; Michael joining in the final note of the MOTN ensemble piece whilst STILL TRYING NOT TO CRY, G.D.I. MICHAEL JUST STOP IT; and finally, during the credits when Sierra unceremoniously shoves Ramin back onstage for a final bow, her ridiculous glomping from behind and the way he scoops her into his arms because THEY'RE STILL IN COSTUME and it's every possible kind of cute.
Plus all the Phantoms except the new guy. I can live without the new guy. :P
So, that's that. I did intend this to be just my favourite moments, but as you can see, I got a little carried away there. :D
I shall now come out of the cut to briefly mention this other, semi-related thing which I discovered on Saturday whilst we were watching the 1925 silent film, which commoncomitatus will also appreciate. I was IMDb-ing to find out where they'd filmed it, because the Palais Garnier interiors were so accurate (soundstage 28, apparently, where many of the sets still remain and which is rumoured to be haunted), and in the process of reading the trivia page I learned the following exciting nugget of information.
The ornate bed in Christine's bedroom is the same one used by Gloria Swanson 25 years later in Sunset Boulevard. Which explains why it was so bloody familiar!!
These fandoms are content to remain intertwined, apparently. :D
Okay, I think this is long enough. I might come back with exciting POTO screencaps at some other juncture when I have more spare time. Watch this space. :D