Tonight BBC Radio 2 sends lyricist Don Black – a man who knows a thing or two about hit musicals – on an exploration of the Phantom Phenomenon (10pm). He’s hoping to find the root of the record-breaking musical’s success, to define the magic that’s seen the show play to 130 million people in 27 countries and amass an estimated gross of $5.6 billion, outstripping even blockbuster films like Avatar and ET.
I wish him luck with it. I’ve been a fan of the show since I first saw it 12 years ago on Broadway, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all that time, it’s that what pleases one Phan will have another reaching for their magical lasso.
Phantom turned 25 this year and celebrated in style, with three lavish shows at the Royal Albert Hall. I was there on the evening of Sunday 2 October, loving every minute as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music flooded the huge auditorium with sound and the audience with emotion.
What will stick with me from that night? Sierra Boggess bringing down the house with Think of Me and Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again; Ramin Karimloo’s vulnerable Phantom, radiating sexual allure; Michael Crawford being visibly moved by the rapturous audience reception when he appeared on stage at curtain call; and Karimloo bobbing his head in time with the beat as he waited to join four other Phantoms and Sarah Brightman in a barnstorming rendition of the title track.
Sunday, of course, was also the night that Love Never Dies stars Karimloo and Boggess rekindled their Phantom ’n’ Christine Daaé chemistry for the cameras, as the performance was beamed live into cinemas across the world. Keen to see what cinemagoers had experienced as I was sitting straining my neck at the Royal Albert Hall, I went along to the cast screening at the Odeon West End on Friday 28 October.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh got the event off to a flying start, quite the comedy double act as they teased the assembled cast that, while they would never dream of mentioning the word “blackmail”, they would, however, point out that everybody’s microphones had been switched on at every point during the three-hour performance…
Ordinary cinemagoers should watch screenings surrounded by the cast more often. It was quite a revelation. Gales of laughter greeted the in-jokes about working in the theatre that pepper the first half of POTO, key numbers were met with applause and, judging by the reaction to Wendy Ferguson’s performance, a sizable number know “a Carlotta” only too well!
The filmed version looks fantastic. And, while I wouldn’t have missed the live performance for the world, I have to admit, what cinemagoers may have lost in atmosphere was more than compensated for by incredible close-ups that thrust you right into the midst of the action.
Of course, certain tricks that enliven the stage show could never be replicated at the Royal Albert Hall. The greatest of these, the chandelier fall, was decidedly muted in comparison (though I’m not likely to forget it – I was sitting underneath it when the firecrackers went off at the interval and I can tell you, those smouldering remnants were hot).
Phans will debate things like the casting till the cows come home – was it overkill to reunite the two stars of sequel Love Never Dies in the leading roles? (Well, you tell me – would you turn down chemistry like that?) Did Hadley Fraser flirt more with danger than Daaé as he gave us a colder, more distant, more “Love Never Dies” Raoul? (Maybe, though for me it was a refreshing take on a character I’d previously always dismissed as a wimp.)
But arguing is all part of the fun of fandom, and it’s hard to imagine too many aficionados being disappointed with the DVD. It’s a sumptuous treatment of the long-running musical, with achingly honest performances from its leads and a fantastic orchestra doing full justice to Lloyd Webber’s soaring score.
Have you seen The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall, in the cinema or on DVD? Post a comment below and tell us what you thought…