A twenty-fifth anniversary is something to be celebrated. For most couples, it might be a candlelit dinner in a romantic restaurant. But, if you are Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh, and the twenty-fifth anniversary being celebrated is of one of your most successful musicals, then something a little bit bigger is called for. So, for The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary a huge cast, massive orchestra and the Royal Albert Hall, was called for.
Paris, 1905 and an auction is taking place on the stage of the Opéra Populaire. This is no ordinary auction, as the auctioneer (Earl Carpenter) has some very special lots to dispose of. There are also some special members of the public attending the auction, including Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Hadley Fraser) who is determined to buy certain lots, including a papier-mâché music box. Finally, Lot 666 – a broken old chandelier – comes up. In speaking of this lot, the auctioneer notes its connection to “the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera”.
As we watch, the chandelier comes back to life and we are transported back to 1881 where a rehearsal is taking place. Carlotta (Wendy Ferguson), the Opéra’s resident soprano prima donna is centre stage, and the centre of attention, when a backdrop suddenly falls. It is unfortunate that this has happened at this time as the theatre is being visited by its new owners – Monsieur Richard Firmin (Barry James) and Monsieur Gilles André (Gareth Snook). Whilst they think that the dropping backdrop is one of those things, there are mumblings among the cast about ‘The Phantom’. Carlotta angrily chastises the new owners saying they know nothing, and storms offstage, closely followed by Monsieur Piangi (Wynne Evans). With no star, the owners are facing a major problem until Meg Giry (Daisy Maywood), the daughter of the Opéra’s ballet mistress Madame Giry (Liz Robertson), tells Firmin and André that chorus girl Christine Daaé (Sierra Boggess) could play the role, as she has been taking lessons with a mysterious teacher, know to Christine only as an “Angel of Music” (Ramin Karimloo). That night, Christine takes to the stage and makes a triumphant début as a star soprano, being lauded by everyone, but especially Raoul, who is an old childhood friend. With her star in the ascendant and a member of the aristocracy falling for her, Will Christine forget her Angel of Music and what will his reaction be if she does?
Based on the French novel of the same name by Gaston Leroux, and with the creative team of Andrew Lloyd Webber (book and music), Charles Hart (lyrics) and Richard Stilgoe (book), Phantom of the Opera moved into Her Majesty’s Theatre in London’s West End on 27th September 1986 and by 2011, it had been seen by over 130 million people in 145 cities across 27 countries, Staging a huge extravaganza for the 25th anniversary was pretty much of a no-brainer really. And the Royal Albert Hall really works as a venue. Directed by Harold Prince with musical staging and choreography by Gillian Lynne and production design by Maria Björnson, the team have really pulled off a sumptuous spectacle for the eyes and the ears. Using some fantastic and very realistic CGI on massive screens, they have been able to create truly amazing, arena-size sets and space that bring the hall itself into the story. With a cast of 135, including corps de ballet of 20, not to mention an orchestra of 45, It can’t have been easy blocking a show on this scale but they have made it seem effortless with the rather limited stage space available. This is musical theatre on an epic scale, but it can also be small and intimate. This is particularly true of the two massive songs in the first act – “The Phantom of the Opera “and “The Music of the Night”.
There is real chemistry between the three leads and I’m not ashamed to admit, by the end I had a tear or two in my eye and so much sympathy for the Phantom – who, rather like Frankenstein’s monster, was a victim rather than an evil person. Special mention for Mark Tucker who created the Phantom’s make-up. With cameras that can get in very close, there is no room for manoeuvre or mistakes with any element, and the Phantom unmasked, is something I’m not going to forget in a hurry.
Funnily enough, I had a discussion yesterday about watching shows online or television and how it often doesn’t work that well. That isn’t true in the case of The Phantom of the Opera which was staged with cameras in mind and really delivers an unforgettable experience of this timeless tale and keeps the essence of theatre alive and well whilst the buildings themselves may be dark.
Review by Terry Eastham
In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, Cameron Mackintosh produced a unique, spectacular staging of the musical on a scale which had never been seen before. Inspired by the original staging by Hal Prince and Gillian Lynne, this lavish, fully-staged production set in the sumptuous Victorian splendour of London’s legendary Royal Albert Hall features a cast and orchestra of over 200, plus some very special guest appearances.
April 17th, 2020
The next show to stream via Universal’s free YouTube channel, ‘The Shows Must Go On’, will be the 25th Anniversary version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, filmed at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011.
The show features Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom and Sierra Boggess as Christine.
As usual, theatre fans will be able to access the show from 7.00pm this Friday 17th April, totally free of charge, however, in the UK the show will only be available via the channel for 24hrs (so a Friday night viewing/Saturday matinee is advised!).
VIEW HERE for free – The Shows Must Go On!
If you would like to own or rent The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall [DVD] (2011)