Sarah Brightman in Concert: Dreamchaser World Tour – September 21, 2013

From her early days as a member of the dance troupe Hot Gossip to her success as a classical crossover recording artist, with a brief segue into musical theatre in Cats and Phantom of the Opera, Sarah Brightman is perhaps one of the best known, and best-selling sopranos in the world. As stated in a previous blog, Sarah Brightman is one of my favorite recording artists, and one of the few who tours regularly in the United States; I first discovered her while listening to the Original London cast recording of Phantom of the Opera, and continued to follow her solo recording career. She is credited with creating the classical crossover genre, as her albums have featured songs (both original and covers) that blend classical singing with pop, rock, and world music influences, and sung in various languages. Many of her albums are thematic, with the songs creating an atmosphere that complements the theme – Dive had a watery theme, the moon was a central theme in La Luna and Harem had an Arabian influence. Her latest album, Dreamchaser, continues this trend, as it touches upon space exploration, a very relevant theme for Ms. Brightman, as she has announced her intention to travel to space in 2015.

Sarah Brightman Dreamchaser

I have been fortunate to have seen her in concert several times, and her concerts, much like her albums have been extraordinary and eclectic. The New York stop on the Dreamchaser tour was at Radio City Music Hall, where I had first seen her sing in concert; if this album and accompanying tour is to be her final concert before her trip into space, it is curious and somewhat fitting that my concert going experience has come full circle. Also has stated previously, the American leg of this tour was to have taken place in February, but had been postponed until now, for reasons unexplained – this postponement was actually a bit fortuitous, as it had snowed heavily on the intended date I was to attend her concert. As I am a member of her official fan club, I was able to purchase my ticket during the pre-sale period, which allowed me to obtain a good seat in the orchestra section (left side) at Radio City Music Hall. Upon entering the historic concert venue and being ushered to my seat, I was overwhelmed at the prospect of being back there after so many years, as her concerts were usually held at Madison Square Garden, which is a much larger venue than Radio City Music Hall.

It was apparent that this concert was a more intimate experience than her previous concerts, as there were four musicians on stage and two backup dancers; also new to this concert was the large screen that projected thematic images mainly space or nature-related, as well as the use of different colored spotlights that crisscrossed the stage, which emphasized the ethereal aspect of the Dreamchaser album.

Her concert started off with the first three songs from Dreamchaser – appropriately, as the curtain raised Ms. Brightman appeared in a full length black dress aloft on a platform with an ethereal  blue-white light behind her as she sang “Angel”, which segued to a colorful nebula imagery for “One Day Like This”. A scarlet tinged sunrise accompanied “Glósoli”; the two backup dancers performed as Ms. Brightman reappeared in a white full length dress to sing “Hijo De La Luna” and “La Luna” amid a full moon. Futuristic space images reappeared for “Eperdu” followed by electrifying lightning images (red, blue and purple) which accompanied “It’s A Beautiful Day”; the bright white light returned with Ms. Brightman once again lifted a few feet from the stage for “Ave Maria”. At this point, she introduced tenor Erkan Aki to sing the duet “Canto Della Terra” for which there was water drop images projected behind them; the end of the first act had her singing “Nessun Dorma” on the raised platform with the close up image of a planet behind her.

Dreamchaser Act 1

After the brief intermission (during which I encountered old and new friends who were also in attendance), the second act opened with “Closer” with Ms. Brightman flanked by the two backup dancers, with black and white circles projected on the screens, creating a dizzying effect. The song “Breathe Me” brought back the space theme, with the screens projecting a lone satellite traveling through the universe. The screens were not used for the next quartet of songs, but rather left most the stage in darkness, with only a line of spotlights as the source of light in descending color order: purple and blue for “Figlio Perduto”, green for “Kaze No Toorimichi”, golden-yellow for “Scarborough Fair”, and a brief return to blue for “A Song of India”. This contrast in lighting was inspired, as the screen shone dark red as the pulsating rhythm of “Phantom of the Opera” fill the air (and greeting with much cheering) – this was the only song that harkened back to her musical theatre days, and perhaps this is the first time she did not sing “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” (the Phantom section of her concert usually included “Twisted Every Way”, which segued into “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”, followed by “Phantom of the Opera” and initially included “Music of the Night”). Once again, tenor  Erkan Aki reappeared to sing the Phantom’s portion of the duet (as an ardent fan of Phantom of the Opera, I have heard many singers tackle this song, and Mr. Aki was pretty good). The final song was “Time to Say Goodbye”, best known as a duet, but she sang it as a solo with the screens showing red candles floating upside down, to which fireworks were added during the final chorus.

For the encore section, the space motif returned with a star-dotted black sky and an occasional shooting star for “Venus and Mars” with the stars swirling as if we were about to make a jump into hyperspace (I’m also a huge Star Wars fan, and that’s what the imagery looked like to me). Her final song was “A Question of Honor” (and quite possibly my favorite song of hers) – the screens initially showed the classic image of the bottom portion of the earth, which soon changed to relate the early space race between the Americans and Russians, with historical footage from that era. This was a brilliant use of imagery that complemented and brought new meaning to the song, as it was originally the official song for a boxing match, with lyric references to two opposing sides colliding. This was a spectacular end to her concert, which was greeting with cheers, applause and a rousing standing ovation.

Dreamchaser Act 2

Seeing Sarah Brightman in concert is always a visual and audio feast, and the Dreamchaser concert was one worth remembering – while not as elaborate as previous tours, the sparse and intimate atmosphere was suited to the venue and created a unique journey through space, bringing to life Ms. Brightman’s dream of space travel, a dream I hope she fulfills.

One Day Like This – Sarah Brightman Dreamchaser CD signing at Barnes & Noble – April 16, 2013

As stated in a previous blog, in this age of digital downloads and streaming audio, the act of purchasing a physical CD seems downright antiquated; nevertheless, one distinct advantage an actual CD copy has over a digital download is that an artist can sign the CD booklet (or the CD itself). My most recent CD purchase was Dreamchaser, the most recent album by Sarah Brightman, one of my favorite recording artists, and the one singer who tours the United States on a fairly regular basis. I first discovered the wondrous voice that is Sarah Brightman whilst listening to the Original London Cast Recording of Phantom of the Opera, and followed her recording career first through her albums featuring songs from her ex-husband Andrew Lloyd Webber, and her subsequent solo recordings. I have been fortunate enough to have seen her in concert several times – though for a few of those concerts, I really didn’t actually “see” her, but her voice enveloped each of the venues she sang with great clarity.

Sarah Brightman Dreamchaser

Dreamchaser is her latest album, after a five-year absence (her last non-compilation recording had been A Winter Symphony in 2008), and as the  title implies, it has an outer space theme, as she had announced that she intends to travel to the International Space Station in the near future. The album is quite ethereal and soothing, a bit different from her previous albums. The American leg of the concert tour that was to accompany this new album was to have been last winter, but was postponed (for various reasons) to the fall of this year [the New York stop will be at Radio City Music Hall in September, of which I will be in attendance]. Dreamchaser was released in the US today, and to accompany that, there was a CD signing at the Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side. The CD signing was just that – it had been announced that there would not be a performance, though the Dreamchaser album was played throughout the store prior to the start of the CD signing.

As my wont, I arrived at the Barnes & Noble early, and a short line had already formed by the time I arrived [prior to the 9AM opening]. Once again, as the doors opened, I made my way to the music section, while a good number of the people who were waiting in line ahead of me inexplicably made their way to the lower level, where the CD signing was to take place; those people eventually made their way back to the upper level to purchase their CDs [once again, limit two per customer] and the (pink) wristband for guaranteed entry. And once again, as I do, I plunked myself down (comfortably) outside the glass doors to wait (and be first in line); as this was the same Barnes & Noble store as my previous visit, the shelves around me were of science fiction, fantasy and mystery novels. And once again, I never got around to reading any of them, as I struck up conversations with fellow Sarah Brightman fans, discussing the merits and differences between her previous albums.

A formal line began to form around 1PM and grew steadily as the time of the CD signing was to commence [at 5PM]; interestingly the line didn’t just form along the side shelves, but snaked through the free-standing shelves in that area. Once the doors opened (around 4:30, I think, I didn’t look at my watch) another interesting deviation occurred – those who were in line first were seated furthest away from the CD signing area (but were assured that they would be the first to get their CDs signed). Ms. Brightman appeared just after 5PM and posed for some press photos before the actual signing took place. As the CD booklet was of glossy stock, she signed the CD itself, personalizing them as she signed; as I was among the first in line, it had been announced that there would not be the opportunity for posed photos with Ms. Brightman (a rule that somehow changed after I had gotten my CD signed). Having learned of this change, I proceeded back into the CD signing room with Jeannie, a fellow Sarah Brightman fan I had met whilst waiting, to get a photo with her (which thankfully I was able to get).

Sarah Brightman at Barnes & Noble

Me and Sarah Brightman

Ms. Brightman was lovely and gracious as always, chatting with the more loquacious fans (I’m quite an introvert and didn’t have the wherewithal to say anything beyond “Thank you”), accepting the gifts that some fans brought her, and happily posed for photos (while seated). She then signed another stack of CDs (of which would be on sale at Barnes & Noble) before I was able to get my photo with her (after which Jeannie and I were ushered out of the room). Not long after we left the store, she emerged again to her car, so it was an added treat to catch a glimpse of her again before she left. Needless to say it was a wonderful experience to have met her in such an intimate space – truly a close encounter with the theatrical kind.

Signed Dreamchaser CD

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