Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Twenty-Two Year Journey with THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

My journey with The Phantom of the Opera began in 1992 at the tender age of four. My godmother took me to see the first National Tour at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. I was absolutely mesmerized. I have since seen the show on six or seven other occasions but I will always remember my first time, which ironically, was one of the show's advertising campaigns in recent years. The details from that first experience are fuzzy, but I very vividly remember the Phantom's lair, the Masquerade, and of course, the famous chandelier. Not yet five years old, I already knew what a "high C" and a "high E-flat" were from running around my house singing the title track at the top of my lungs. I thought I was part of the show and I experienced the drama along with Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford every time I listened to the cast recording on cassette tape.

Fast forward two decades and I still love The Phantom of the Opera, but for different reasons. Becoming a singer myself, I appreciate the glorious music that Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber has written for Christine and The Phantom get to sing. I'm not as enamored with the chandelier and the boat as I once was, but those first chords of the overture still give me goosebumps every time. I was lucky enough to attend the 25th anniversary concert a year ago and what an incredible experience that was. The festivities and the special performances that followed the show were fantastic, of course, but there was one element of the show that made the evening special. Her name was Sierra Boggess.

This brings me to the special performance I was able to attend a few weeks ago for a blogger event. I was more excited to see this show than I had been for any other repeat visit, and I was not disappointed. Sierra Boggess and Norm Lewis in the main roles are the most excitement this show has seen in years. I don't use the term 'reinvent' lightly, but that is exactly what they did with these roles that are over twenty-five years old. They are vocally brilliant, which was not unexpected, but what makes their performances so profound is their chemistry and their acting choices. I think their previous onstage relationship as father and daughter (in The Little Mermaid) adds an interesting element to their Phantom relationship by making it seem even more forbidden. The highlight of Sierra's performance is her Act II solo Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again. The vocal nuance that she applies to the scores give such depth to the character and we experience Christine's emotional highs and lows alongside her. Super fans will also be excited to hear the Wandering Child trio from London has been added to the end of this scene. Norm's booming baritone adds a new flair to the previously tenor-performed songs Music of the Night and the title track. However, where he really shines is in the final scene Down Once More/Track Down This Murderer. He finds some small notes of humor in this character that is often played only as brooding and grotesque. He actually resembles a child throwing a tantrum as he forces Christine to choose between Raoul's life and her own freedom, which adds all the more pain and anguish to his character.

Hal Prince's staging of this beloved musical is timeless, yet if I squinted a little bit, I almost felt as if I were watching a new production because the performances are so fresh. Whether you're a casual fan or you've grown up with The Phantom in your soul like I did, it is worth revisiting. It is an absolute joy and a pleasure to revisit the staging and hear Sir Webber's glorious romantic melodies with two exquisite talents at the helm. In fact, take your own children and maybe, just maybe, the musical theatre will take hold of them and refuse to let them go as it did with me over twenty years ago.

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