Phantom of the Opera

Phantom of the Opera will always be my favorite musical.  I know it doesn’t have the philosophical and theological richness of Les Miserables, and perhaps it is a bit pedestrian to claim it as “favorite” — it’s like feeling advant-garde by claiming to like Adele.

I know much of it is because it’s so comfortably familiar – I have a strange memory of listening to the soundtrack while driving in the van with my parents and sister Jill — maybe circa 1996?  It’s a strange memory because I feel like we were just driving around town at night for fun — and the only plausible explanation for that would be if we were looking at Christmas lights… and who the heck listens to Phantom while looking at Christmas lights?

And it wasn’t the average one-disc soundtrack that just included all the songs — no, it was the full soundtrack that included every sung line, including the dialogue between songs.  In middle school and high school, I must have listened to that soundtrack over and over — I didn’t realize I listened to it so frequently until I watched the show and knew exactly what was coming before and after the main song — the off-key playing of Phantom after Music of the Night, or the dialogue between Meg and Christine about her new tutor, or the fantastic give-and-take dialogue surrounding the discovery of the notes from the Opera Ghost.

After seeing it live, I read the book and was shocked to find how much I loved Raoul.  The Phantom is downright creepy and demonic in the book- quite different from Webber’s sympathetic portrait.  So when I saw it again on stage, the book definitely swayed my second-viewing and I properly swooned at All I Ask of You and cheered when (spoiler alert) Christine left Phantom behind.

With all of this in mind, you can imagine what I thought of the 2004 movie.  I guess I should give it a second chance, but the fact that I was drawn to feel disappointed when she left the Phantom for Raoul makes me give it two-thumbs down.  I know he’s the main character, but come on — I should not be thinking, “Stay in this dungeon, Christine!  What are you thinking?!” when she has the option to flee a murderer.

All this to say… I just finished watching the 25th Anniversary performance at Royal Albert Hall.  And it is stunning.  After seeing bits on YouTube (Thanks to Jill– who saw it on PBS and recommended it), I got it on Netflix and relived my high school days over the last few nights.  I can’t recommend it enough.  Especially if you’ve only seen the live-action movie.

Ramin Karimloo is incredible.  Sierra Boggess is, hands down, the best Christine I’ve ever heard.

And you actually understand the story.  I don’t know why the characters make so much more sense in this production than the others — it’s not as if it’s a different script than the other times I’ve seen it on stage.  But somehow Phantom is creepier, Raoul is more dashing — and while you do feel sorry for Phantom, you definitely don’t want Christine to stay with him.

Perhaps it was seeing them up close — something I’ve obviously never been able to do when I saw it on stage (balcony seats in Clowes Hall and the Murat).   They had always been voices to me, but not actors.

I will have the songs in my head for the next week or so — the only downside to singing them in show choir is that it’s hard for me to hear them without wanting to sing along.  And I’m not worthy to sing along with Sierra!

If you’re a Phantom fan, you have to see this production.  If you have never seen Phantom, this is a great way to see it for the first time.

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