The chandelier crashes to the stage once again — this time on public television.
At the 25th anniversary of the longest-running theater production, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and producer Cameron Mackintosh last October presented “The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall.” The lavish celebration of the musical was broadcast live to 500 theater screens in Britain and the U.S., and the recorded program will air at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 4, on KUED Ch. 7.
Mackintosh had said that he wanted “something special, above and beyond just another gala performance.” And “Phantom 25,” as the re-staging has come to be known, is indeed something special. The cast is flat-out superb, and the opulent set eclipses the grandeur of the currently running Broadway and West End productions, impossible as that sounds.
Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess, who originated the roles of the Phantom and Christine Daae in the “Phantom” sequel “Love Never Dies” at its 2010 London opening, repeat their roles for “Phantom 25.” While “Love Never Dies” flopped and was unanimously trashed (with one wag ridiculing it as “Paint Never Dries”), Karimloo and Boggess triumphed in the short-lived production.
In “Phantom 25,” the stars are tremendous. It’s a thrill to hear Karimloo’s seemingly limitless tenor and Boggess’ flawless soprano, and they give delicately emotive performances. Hadley Fraser plays Raoul with verve and passion.
“Phantom” was the last of the special effects-laden mega-musicals, featuring the famous scene with a massive chandelier plummeting from the theater ceiling to just 20 feet above the audience’s heads. Along with productions that continue in New York and London, the show has open-ended runs in Budapest, Hungary; Kyoto, Japan; and Las Vegas. It’s reported that “Phantom” has a total box-office gross of an astonishing $5.6 billion and has played before 130 million people worldwide.
The producers did an impressive job of transforming the Royal Albert Hall into the Opera Populaire, complete with a multitude of large, gilded angels in the false proscenium. The chandelier does indeed look spectacular as it is unwrapped and rises to the ceiling after the opening auction scene. Anthony Inglis leads the superb 200-strong orchestra from the tiered set with gusto.
After the curtain call, a beaming Lloyd Webber is joined by his “angel of music,” ex-wife Sarah Brightman, who sings the title song, with flailing arms. Fans of the musical, dubbed “Phantom Phans,” embraced her performance at the show’s 1986 West End opening and when she repeated the role two years later on Broadway. But Time magazine, while hailing Brightman’s voice, famously reported that her “acting was like Minnie Mouse on quaaludes.”
Brightman’s original co-star, Michael Crawford, who hypnotized audiences with his powerful acting and commanding voice, makes a brief appearance. But unfortunately Crawford does not sing, after leaving another London stage where he’s headlining “The Wizard of Oz.” Instead, Phantoms from five renowned casts — including the incredible Colm Wilkinson, who created the role in the original Canadian cast — sing “The Music of the Night.”
“The Phantom of the Opera” is sumptuous theater, and “Phantom 25” is a loving celebration of its undeniable success.