Much like the Tim Rice/Benny Andersson/Björn Ulvaeus collaboration Chess, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-breaking The Phantom of the Opera has been a part of my life since high school. Phantom, however, struck a particularly favorable chord with me during those awkward post-elementary school years. After all, if there’s one thing a songwriting self-conscious lad with absolutely no ability to communicate or connect with the people around him can relate to, it’s the character of the Phantom: a misshapen creature who dwells within the catacombs of the Paris Opera House and longs to “make his mark” with a young ingénue above.
My first experience with The Phantom of the Opera was in the early ‘90s when it hit the Los Angeles area, with the one and only Robert Guillaume (yes, TV’s Benson) as the tortured titular villainy feller. My second round was a few years later, helmed by a “lead” so forgettable that even an astonished high schooler such as myself failed to be impressed with him. A decade later, I had the misfortune of seeing that awful big screen adaptation from director Joel Schumacher, and featuring an appalling performance by Gerard Butler (who shouted more than he sang) — to wit I felt I would probably never enjoy the musical again.
All that changed once I saw The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall on Blu-ray. The 2011 release commemorates the 25th Anniversary of the musical’s debut in 1986, which was filmed before a live audience and broadcast across cinemas around the world. Ramin Karimloo — the youngest actor to ever inhabit the role — reprises the role as the Phantom here; a part he played in the West End production of Phantom for a couple of years, as well as the less-celebrated follow-up musical, Love Never Dies. Also singing their guts out here are American-born Sierra Boggess as Christine, Hadley Fraser as Raoul, the delightful Wendy Ferguson as Carlotta, Barry James and Gareth Snook as Monsieurs Firmin and Andre (respectively), Liz Roberston as Madame Giry, and Daisy Maywood as Meg Giry.
While my memory may not be 100% accurate of what I saw in the theatre all those years ago, I couldn’t help but feel there were a number of differences between this and the versions I saw when I was younger; some of which may have been “inspired” by that terrible movie I previously mentioned — making this incarnation a little too pretentious for its own good at times. But perhaps the most distracting aspect of this piece is the director’s inability to cut to the right cameras at the right time. An example occurs during “Prima Donna,” when Raoul holds up a note and sings “Christine spoke of an angel.” It’s not the most “important” thing to see per se, but, in this instance, all we see is the sight of the other performers walking around. Frown.
Minor quibbling aside, this is a wonderful concert, and a great way of seeing the iconic musical somewhere other than on the stage — whether you’ve seen it before or not. But the true highlight of this release is an encore (introduced by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself) by four ex-Phantoms — John Owen-Jones, Peter Jöback, Anthony Warlow, and Colm Wilkinson — who perform with the original Christine Daae, Sarah Brightman. The original Phantom, Michael Crawford, also makes an appearance at the finale for this event, though he does not grace us with his vocals (reason being he had just been in a production of The Wizard of Oz earlier that day). Sadly, Robert Guillaume does not appear along with the other Phantoms — but we should all thank our lucky stars that Gerard Butler is nowhere to be seen as well.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment proudly releases The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall on Blu-ray in a stellar presentation that boasts a superb video transfer and a marvelous DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that really brings out the best Andrew Lloyd Webber and company have to offer. Subtitles are available in a fifteen different languages, and there are two special features included here: a behind-the-scenes look at the preparation of the show, and a trailer for a filmed performance of Love Never Dies, which is due out on Blu-ray in May.