To the Seat of Sweet Music’s Throne: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Phantom of the Opera – January 26, 2013

Let it be known that January is officially my favorite month in the entire year, despite the bitter cold wind and the occasional snowfall that often turns to slippery dangerous ice that comes with being in New York City. Of course aside from my own birthday being in January, there are also other notable theatrical dates, related to Phantom of the Opera, the longest running musical on Broadway, which celebrated its 25th anniversary on January 26, 2013 at the Majestic Theater.

Phantom 25 years

[Disclaimer: As noted in several previous blog posts, I am a great fan [phan] of Phantom of the Opera and I’m also a great fan of many of the cast members both past and present. The original London cast recording of Phantom was one of the first musical scores I listened to, and have seen the production more times that any other show, whether it be musical or play, and I have seen the show in three different cities, and two different countries. I can almost guarantee that there will be several fan girl moments in the paragraphs to follow, perhaps some mild ranting / nitpicking as well, as I do have strong opinions with regards to this show, many of which might (or might not) agree with the rest of the Phantom fandom, who are among the most loyal and opinionated (both in a good and bad way) fan base I’ve ever encountered, mostly online. I should state here that I’m much more an “old school” fan, though not so much a strict Leroux purist, I prefer to think of the Phantom as an older man, a quasi-father figure to Christine, and not the young, sexy Phantom that seems prevalent these days. While I love the stage production, I hated the film adaptation, though that had more to do with the casting of the film (and had the film been remotely cast like the Les Miserables film, I would have been much happier). I also greatly disliked the “sequel-but-it’s-not-really-a-sequel” Love Never Dies, though interestingly enough, the dislike stems more from the nonsensical plot, which reads more like really bad wishful thinking fan girl fan fiction. Had Love Never Dies been a parody, I would have dismissed it as such; alas it was not.

But I digress.

I’m more familiar with the Lloyd Webber adaptation of the Phantom story, and of course that is the subject of this blog. Anyway, this is quite a long-winded way of stating that there will be fan girl moments, rants / nitpicks and strong opinions with regards to this show, which, as mentioned in previous blogs, my second all time favorite musical that I have seen live on stage.]

As the opening night date for Phantom is public knowledge and that in 2013 it would be its 25th anniversary on Broadway, naturally there was great anticipation on what the festivities would entail and whether or not tickets would be available to the public. For months prior to the opening night, it was announced that there would not be tickets available for that performance; in mid December 2012 it had been announced that there would be only 100 pairs of tickets available, and a sweepstakes contest via the show’s Facebook page would determine the winners (with the stipulation that winners needed to be US residents). One of my friends was fortunate enough to be one of the sweepstakes winners, and was taking me with her, which assured me that I would be able to attend. On January 22nd however, the announcement came that a limited amount of rear mezzanine tickets would be on sale for the 25th anniversary performance, at which time most of my other friends who had not won the Sweepstakes rushed to get tickets. Of course, this also happened seven years ago when Phantom became the longest running show on Broadway; nevertheless, it was great that seats were available for the public.

Phantom Cast List

Phantom Cast List

As stated at the beginning of this blog, there are notable (well at least to me) dates associated with Phantom – its first preview was on January 9th (which is also my birthday), and of course, January 26th, opening night. Another notable date is January 19th, which is original Phantom Michael Crawford’s birthday, so my day of celebrating all things Phantom started with the annual MCIFA [Michael Crawford International Fan Association] Birthday Bash Luncheon, which is always a fun event to meet fellow Crawford fans, many of whom were also attending the 25th Anniversary performance.

As my friend Kay was one of the contest winners, we didn’t know where we would be seated until we picked up our tickets – we ended up in midsection of the rear mezzanine (right side), which I believe is the farthest from the stage I have ever sat at the Majestic Theater. Interestingly there were no other shows (aside from Rock of Ages across the street at the Helen Hayes Theater) running on West 44th Street, as Lucky Guy and Matilda the Musical were scheduled to start its productions at the Broadhurst and Shubert Theaters, respectively, in the Spring, and Barry Manilow, who scheduled do perform in concert at the St. James Theater was out sick, so crowds that gathered outside the Majestic, some in ball gowns and tuxedos, others in more casual formal wear, were all there to see Phantom. There was no press activity outside, as it was quite chilly, though as we were let into the theater at 6:30 PM, the press were already inside, doing what they do; by the time I got into the lobby, press photos were being taken of director Hal Prince, producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, and Sarah Brightman, who was the original Christine. Prince and Brightman quickly left after the photo ops, but Sir Cameron stayed to talk to the press that remained, of course theatergoers hung out in the lobby to take photos (myself included) before heading to our respective seats.

Sir Cameron Mackintosh speaking with the press before the show

Sir Cameron Mackintosh speaking with the press before the show

Unlike the Gala Night, my seat was much further back in the mezzanine, so there was little time to search the orchestra section for former cast members or other notable people. At the outset, a short video was shown, detailing the history of the Broadway production, with entertainment news clips from 25 years ago, interwoven with short interview clips from the cast and creative team reflecting on the show’s longevity, all of which was greeted by waves of applause and ovation. Afterwards there was about ten minutes or so of inactivity as the video screen was removed, the stage needed to be set for the start of the show and the orchestra tuned up. Once the show began, the applause began anew, with cheers at the overture and the initial raising of the chandelier, as well as stage entrances for all the principals. As the titular character, Hugh Panaro gave one of the best performances I had ever seen him give; his “Music of the Night” was truly sublime. Sierra Boggess (who was also the Christine at London’s 25th Anniversary performance) was just as astounding, and there is richness in the quality of her voice I had not really heard in previous actress who have played Christine. The rest of the cast were equally amazing, as they are every night.

Intermission comes along, and as like it was for the Gala, there was free champagne to be had, but Kay and I decide to head down to the orchestra section to attempt to spot any actors or notable faces, though we were hoping to see if we can meet Sarah Brightman. While we were not able to find Sarah Brightman, we managed to find our way to the front orchestra, where Sandra Joseph and Ron Bohmer were chatting with those around them; we able to get a quick photo with them, taken by Genevieve, who often takes photos for Broadwayworld.com (and is a member of the MCIFA).  Afterwards, Kay and I made our way back up to the rear mezzanine, picking up a (plastic) glass of free champagne (which was pretty good) before the end of intermission. The photo below (or rather one very similar to it) has been included among the after-party photo spread on Broadwayworld.com

Intermission photo: Kay and I with Sandra Joseph and Ron Bohmer

Intermission photo: Kay and I with Sandra Joseph and Ron Bohmer

The second act was greeted with great ovation, with the reveal of the Masquerade set, as well as after Sierra Boggess’ flawless rendition of “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”. One interesting lyric change I noticed was the Phantom’s line during “Wandering Child” section where the line has been  changed  from “far from my far-reaching gaze” to “far from my fathering gaze”, which took me by surprise  – my gut reaction was literally “wait, what?”, which I uttered out loud (quietly, of course). While I understand the reasoning behind the lyric change (or rather the word change, as the rest of the lyric remains the same), it seems an odd one (and one that was done at the London 25th Anniversary performance, and I believe is used in the UK tour production).  The lyric has been fine as it was for the past 25 years, why change it now? Anyway, it’s fine either way, really, but I suppose I’m more accustomed to the original lyric. Another thing I find truly  interesting is that regardless of wherever you are seated in the Majestic Theater (and I’ve pretty much sat in just about every section in the theater) when the flames ignite for those brief moments after the “Wandering Child” section, you can always feel the heat from those flames. There was much sniffling around me as the finale unfolded; standing ovation cheers greeted the cast during the curtain call.

The post-show festivities began with the cast parting to welcome Hal Prince and Sir Cameron Mackintosh to the stage, both of whom spoke eloquently about the show’s longevity and thanked all the various people both who were at the theater and those who could not be there, most notably Andrew Lloyd Webber, who was not in attendance due to medical reasons, and the late Maria Björnson, costume designer, all the while sharing wonderful anecdotes. Hal Prince then conveyed a written message from Michael Crawford, who was unable to attend for reasons unspecified. Afterwards, a short (humorous) video with Sarah Brightman and Andrew Lloyd Webber was shown, which was followed by Sir Cameron Mackintosh introducing Sarah Brightman, who was greeted by a thunderous ovation, and who have a short speech. This was followed by Hal Prince relating the astounding facts and figures associated with the Broadway production, but not before calling out the backstage crew to come onstage to receive the acclamation they richly earned and deserve, as well as praising the orchestra and front of house staff.

Phantom Cast and Crew with Hal Prince at the forefront

Phantom Cast and Crew with Hal Prince at the forefront

After all the speeches and such, then came the musical encore, which interestingly enough almost mirrored the one done for the London 25th Anniversary performance, though this time it was Sierra Boggess singing “Phantom of the Opera” with John Owen Jones, Hugh Panaro, Ramin Karimloo and Peter Jöback as the quartet of Phantoms, all of whom were greeted with thunderous cheers, followed by the quartet singing “Music of the Night”. There has been much puzzlement on why the three other Phantoms that were chosen were not ones who had performed the role on Broadway, and who were, in fact the same three who sang at the London 25th Anniversary performance, though it was announced (just like in London) Peter Jöback would be playing the titular role on Broadway for a limited time in the spring. I’m not sure why none of the former Broadway Phantoms were asked to participate or whether they had been asked and had declined for whatever reason; it’s not my place to speculate the why and wherefores, but it would have been a bit more appropriate had the other three been ones who had played the role on Broadway [though it was a pleasure to hear John Owen Jones sing on a Broadway stage again – I’d love to see him a Broadway Phantom, having seen him over a decade ago in London]. Another lovely highlight during the musical encore was the entire cast (and the audience around me) sing a verse of “Music of the Night”, and Hugh Panaro singing the line “You alone have made our song take flight” directly to Hal Prince, which was a fitting and touching tribute. More cheering ensures, as the music swells, the chandelier starts to descend but stops after a few feet and gold and silver streamers explode around the chandelier.

Sierra Boggess & The Phantom Quartet: (from left to right) - John Owen Jones, Hugh Panaro, Ramin Karimloo & Peter Jöback

Sierra Boggess & The Phantom Quartet: (from left to right) – John Owen Jones, Hugh Panaro, Ramin Karimloo & Peter Jöback

Again, having not secure any invitations to the after party, which was at the New York City Public Library at Bryant Park, we stuck around the theater, as the people who ran the Facebook fan page wanted all the sweepstakes winners to assemble in the center rear mezzanine section for a group photo, which was posted on the Facebook fan page. After which, Kay and I wandered around the theater looking for spare playbills (there were none to be found) and also to pull off some of the streamers from the chandelier (which by then made its descent towards the stage). By this time, we’re (politely) asked to leave the theater, as it’s already past 11 PM [I managed to grab two glasses of champagne on the way out], and Kay and I drank another toast to an amazing evening. Second glass of champagne consumed, we’re heading away from the theater, when I spot Davis Gaines, leaving in the opposite direction with a friend.

[Minor disclaimer: Davis Gaines was the first actor I saw play the Phantom live on stage, and he was absolutely astounding; he is quite possibly my all time favorite Phantom whose name is not Michael Crawford, because no one is like Michael Crawford in my book (and probably most everyone’s book), and he’s such an all around nice guy off stage as well. After all, you never forget your first Phantom].

So my truly fan-girly moment of the entire evening was quite shamelessly following behind (oh all right, chasing after) Davis Gaines to say hi and to ask for a photo (and a hug); his friend took the photo of us with the Majestic marquee in the background. I then wished him a happy belated birthday (circling back to my aforementioned love for the month of January, Davis Gaines’ birthday is January 21st), to which he was pleasantly surprised (and earned me another hug). We bade him good night, and headed the way were going beforehand [Kay to the hotel at which she was staying, me back home via the subway].

Kay and I with Davis Gaines outside the Majestic Theater

Kay and I with Davis Gaines outside the Majestic Theater

It truly goes without say that January 26, 2013 will go down as one of the most memorable, spectacular and magical evenings I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in a Broadway theater. There is no doubt in my mind why Phantom has run for so long, and continuously will so for years to come – the score is magnificent, the story is timeless, and the memory of experiencing such an amazing production is one that will live on (and to use a phrase associated with another long running Lloyd Webber musical) Now and Forever.

25th Anniversary Playbill

25th Anniversary Playbill

Even The Darkest Night Will End and The Sun Will Rise – Memories of Les Miserables

With the long-awaited, star-laden film adaptation due to be released on Christmas Day (about which I will expound my opinions as soon as I am able to see it), Les Miserables has returned to the US in a grand manner. While the stage production is still running in London (where it is the longest running musical), and there are countless touring productions all around the world, there is no Broadway production currently running, which is probably the only negative thing about Les Miserables at this moment. Thankfully, there have been several concert performances, namely the 10th and 25th Anniversary concerts that have been filmed that I can watch over and over in lieu of seeing a live production.

Les Miserables was one of the first musicals of which I became aware when I was growing up, and has become my all time favorite musical that I have ever seen live onstage. I first became aware of the score in grade school when the glee club (yes, I was in the glee club / chorus from the third grade through eighth grade) sang a medley of songs from the show, which had also prompted me to read the Victor Hugo novel, albeit the abridged version – tackling the 1,200+ page unabridged version was a daunting task for a nine-year-old to undertake. Les Miserables was also among the first stage musicals I ever saw (though I can’t recall who had been that initial Broadway cast – it was not the original cast), and is one of three musicals I have seen in the double digits [the other two being Phantom of the Opera and La Cage aux Folles].

Les Miserables marquee 2006

Les Miserables marquee at the Broadhurst Theatre, October 24, 2006 – January 6, 2008

I recall being crestfallen when the original production has announced it closing in 2003, and while I had been unable to obtain a ticket to the final performance, I was able to obtain one of the last tickets while waiting on the cancellation line to the next-to-last performance, which had been the first (though not the last) time I spent $100 for a single ticket – ticket prices back then were not as exorbitant as they are now. I also recall the utter joy I felt when I had read that to commemorate the show becoming the longest running show on the West End, the show would be revived in late 2006; that production was supposed to be a six month run, and ended up running over year and a half. This blog will therefore focus more on the revival production, as it is fresher in my recent memory, though there is one lasting memory I have from seeing the original production. Two months before its closing, Terrence Mann, who had brilliantly originated the role of Inspector Javert, returned to reprise his role, and I was finally able to see him on stage, ending years of my missing him perform live on stage [in the shows I had seen in which he was in the cast until that time – Cats, Beauty and the Beast, and The Scarlet Pimpernel – he had either been on vacation or had recently left the production]. Needless to say, he was astounding in the role, and remains one of my favorite actors to play that role.

The 2006 – 2008 Broadway revival production had non-traditional casting, meaning that race and ethnicity did not factor in casting the characters (who, of course are French). I loved the revival cast, which included Alexander Gemignani, Norm Lewis, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Aaron Lazar, Jenny Galloway, Gary Beach and Carly Rose Sonenclar (to name but a few) with one glaring exception – for whatever reason, Daphne Rubin-Vega, best known as being the original Mimi in Rent had been cast as Fantine. While she may have been fantastic as Mimi (full disclosure – I had not seen her in Rent, and I have the original cast recording to go by), she was terrible as Fantine, to the point where at the performance I had attended, the audience actually cheered when [spoiler alert!] Fantine died. That’s just not right. Thankfully, the succeeding actors to play the role – Lea Salonga and Judy Kuhn – were remarkably better, and interestingly enough had notably played two other significant roles in the past. Lea Salonga had played Eponine during the original run and Judy Kuhn had originated the role of Cosette, and both had reprised these roles in the 10th Anniversary concert. Other notable replacements during the revival run were John Owen-Jones as Valjean, and Max von Essen as Enjolras, both of whom were brilliant in their respective roles.

Whereas I was not able to attend the final performance of the original production, I was able to attend the final performance of the revival production on January 6, 2008, sitting the (right) box seat, which is an interesting perspective of the show. Seeing the show and listening to the score was, and is, one of the most moving experiences I have ever had in the theatre. Without fail, almost regardless of the cast, I’m weeping by the end of the show – just hearing the opening notes of “Bring Him Home” induces tears; it’s not all doom and gloom, though – there are moments of levity, most of which came from the opportunistic Thenardiers, in “Master of the House”, “The Thenardier Waltz of Treachery” and “Beggar at the Feast”, Gary Beach and Jenny Galloway were perfect in balancing their comic timing with underling menace to not let the audience forget that they too are the villains of the piece. Other moments of levity (whether intended or not) were provided by Adam Jacobs as Marius and Drew Sarich as Grantaire; Adam Jacobs had played Marius as awkward beau, with his hesitant opening delivery of “A Heart Full of Love”, which always induced giggles from the audience, and Drew Sarich’s brilliant portrayal of the drunken Grantaire during “Red and Black”.

IMG_0108

Final curtain call, Broadway revival: January 6, 2008

The stage door experience after that final performance was frenzied as always, though it does amuse me that more times than not, it’s always a chilly night whenever I stage door, and thankfully while it had been cold, it did not snow.  The cast had emerged to an enthusiastic crowd of fans and signed playbills and posed for photos, per usual. I truly believe that it is utterly impossible for anyone who has ever seen the show or listened to any of the cast recordings (and there are a lot of them out there, in multiple languages) to not be moved to tears by the music and the story that tells of the triumph of the human spirit in harsh and unforgiving circumstances.

Me with some of the cast - clockwise from top left (John Owen-Jones, Max von Essen, Jenny Galloway and Gary Beach)

Clockwise from top left: John Owen-Jones, Max von Essen, Jenny Galloway and Gary Beach

Nearly five years has passed since the revival production (and almost ten years since the original production) closed on Broadway – I can only hope with all the laurels the film adaptation is generating that a permanent revival will return. There have been rumors that the current US Touring production might find its way to New York City.

Brief update:  It has been announced that Les Miserables will return to Broadway sometime in 2014, though no specific date or venue has yet been confirmed.

Commemorative plaque right outside the Imperial Theatre

Commemorative plaque right outside the Imperial Theatre