There are theatrical spectacles and then there are theatrical spectacles. The Phantom of the Opera is one of the biggest musicals in the world and to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the folks behind it—including Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh—produced an anniversary version at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Said version is now available on Blu-ray and is not a bad way to bring the magic of the famous show to your living room.
Quite clearly the inspiration for the event are the anniversary concerts which have been held for Les Miserables (another Mackintosh production), but the difference between what’s been done here for Phantom and the Les Mis events is that, as opposed to being a concert, this is a full production of the musical. Yes, as with Les Mis, this features a couple of songs with famous past performers of the musical following its traditional close, but rather than having the majority of songs simply sung by actors and actresses standing in front of microphones, this anniversary show is truly a show – full costumes, full sets, and nearly 100 extra cast members.
In short, those who believe that Webber’s musical was already too loud, too big, and too boisterous will probably not be swayed by watching this performance. There is certainly the off chance that such naysayers will decide upon seeing this even more grandiose production that the traditional one is rather staid, but that does seem unlikely. For the rest of us, what we get is a fantastic production done with incredible style and beauty.
Based on the novel of the same name by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera tells the story a young singer in the Paris Opera House, Christine (Sierra Boggess), who is the muse of the shadowy ghost of the Opera House, The Phantom (Ramin Karimloo). The Phantom teaches Christine everything he can about singing and performance and in return asks for her devotion. The Phantom, in fact, plots horror after horror for the Opera House until the managers agree to allow Christine to play the lead.
Much of the show is about Christine being torn between the Phantom and the handsome and wealthy Raoul (Hadley Fraser). In that way, unquestionably, the show is a very traditional love triangle, but with the overlay of this mysterious character of the Phantom as opposed to another ordinary suitor as well as Webber’s fantastic music, Phantom of the Opera becomes a whole lot more.
As one would expect, the performances given in this anniversary version of the show are outstanding. Equally good are the sets and costumes – this is a grandiose version of a grandiose musical, one can’t quite imagine it being done in bigger or better fashion. And, as the tale takes place in an opera house, there is something very right about it being done in such huge, over-the-top style.
The one place where this production truly falters is with the direction by Nick Morris and Laurence Connor. All too often during major musical sequences (particularly early in the piece), they seem to feel it necessary to not only constantly cut between cameras but to also have many of their cameras in motion. This is a musical being performed for a seated audience and while some cutting between angles it certainly necessary, the rapidity with which it is done, the number of camera angles utilized, and the movement of the cameras all serve to pull the at-home audience out of the experience rather than enhancing it. A toned-down approach would have been far more effective – the musical is a great one and doesn’t need a flashy shooting style to improve it.
Ignoring the ways in which the cameras are utilized, what appears on them is absolutely fantastic. The visuals show all the intricate details of the costumes and masks, making the numbers look as beautiful as they sound. The number “Masquerade,” in particular, shows this. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack (which, for some reason, did not end play be default) helps put the viewer squarely in the middle of the Royal Albert Hall for all the action. The music (the real star of the show) sounds just as gorgeous as the entire affair looks. It is full of highs and lows, tons of bass, and the singers’ voices come ring through loud, pure, and clear. Some may complain that musical’s opening is rather quiet, and it is, but it seems to me to be a deliberate choice in order to set the stage.
Unfortunately, the Blu-ray release doesn’t contain much in the way of special features. There is an all-too-brief piece on what went on in getting the musical ready for the Royal Albert Hall, but rather than us getting to see much of it, we are told about it. It is a decent piece as far as it goes, but it is distressing that it doesn’t go farther. The only other bonus feature is a trailer for Phantom‘s sequel, Love Never Dies.
Those who don’t like Webber or The Phantom of the Opera won’t be convinced by anything they see here that they’re wrong,. However, anyone who does like the composer and this show will feel their love confirmed with this dazzling, beautiful, production.