Okay, I know what you're thinking - "What is this guy doing writing a rock review for Phantom of the Opera
"" I would answer with another question - did you know that the song "Phantom of the Opera" was released as a pop/rock single to promote the original London stage show, and that it hit #1 in the UK charts" Didn't think so.
I felt that what with the movie version coming out and everything, now was the time to talk about the original. The Phantom of the Opera
debuted in London in 1986 to sold out theaters, eventually moving to Broadway in 1988, where it still runs at the Majestic Theater - it is currently the longest running show on Broadway. As most of the original Broadway cast was also in the London show, this recording of the original London cast serves as the original cast recording. The full album is a two disc set that is essentially the entire show on CD, with dialogue, musical interludes, etc. I, however, prefer the "Highlights" version, which is the 13 complete songs from the score without distracting bits of sing-song lines and dramatic pauses.
The Phantom of the Opera
begins with the Overture which, despite its (obviously) instrumental nature, conveys the majestic, grandiose scope of the sweeping gothic romance. For those of you still doubting that this review belongs on this site, note the heavy bass lines and soaring synthesizers in the towering signature tune. Things quiet down a bit with "Think of Me," an operatic aria sung by Sarah Brightman (Andrew Lloyd Webber's wife) as leading lady Christine Daae. The first bit is sung at rehearsal, and a brief instrumental transitions into Christine performing in front of an audience. (For you theater geeks, consider that Christine effects a costume change in the 15 second instrumental interlude!) The male voice is that of Raoul, Christine's child hood sweetheart, who is understandably impressed by her sudden turn as an incredible soprano. "Angel of Music" is the first song to actually advance the plot, as Christine explains to her friend Meg about her ghostly vocal coach. This track features some of the best harmonies in the show.
"The Mirror (Angel of Music)" is essentially a continuation of "Angel of Music" after Raoul interrupts, then leaves. The Phantom (Michael Crawford) makes his first appearance, and his possessive nature is made clear immediately, as he refers to Raoul as the "ignorant fool" sharing in my triumph! "The Mirror" flows straight into "The Phantom of the Opera," the signature song of the score. The booming bass and heavily synthesized piano make it clear why this was an '80s pop hit (with accompanying music video). One of the best showcases of Michael Crawford's Phantom in his reasonably collected and very in-control state, while Brightman stretches the boundaries of the notes live performers can hit with a brilliant bit at the end of the song.
Possibly the best song is (not coincidentally) the Phantom's lone solo performance. "Music of the Night" is haunting, dark, and irresistible, just like the character of the Phantom. Crawford's performance fits the nuance of the song perfectly (although, trust me, current Broadway Phantom Hugh Panaro outshines even the original himself). The crescendo in the middle of the song is a harbinger of things to come, both musically and plot-wise. "Prima Donna" is a respite from the heavy romance and obsession and a chance for the minor characters to shine, as theater managers Andre and Firmin beg their original soprano La Carlotta to return, while Raoul and dance leader Madame Giry wonder at the Phantom's intentions. (For those of you who have only seen the movie, Madame Giry is not as omniscient in the stage show.) Impressive blended vocal parts, but a song of a different tone from the rest of the album (although Carlotta's soprano is impressive).
"All I Ask of You" cements the romantic core of the story, as Raoul and Christine share a beautiful duet expressing their love for each other. Both parts are well written, and the excellent music and voices draw attention from the slightly cheesy lyrics. Then, to prove that all of the diverse songs in the show are really based on the same musical pattern, the Phantom follows the lovers with an octave jump of the "Music of the Night" tune. This is where the Phantom starts to lose it, as his sadness for (in his mind) losing Christine is replaced by a chillingly powerful declaration that the new couple "will curse the day you did not do all that the Phantom asked of you!"and maniacal laughter as the Phantom destroys the chandelier in the opera house, ending Act 1.
"Entr'acte" is Act 2's Overture, an amalgamation of the songs from Act 1 and hints of what it to come. "Masquerade" is the biggest ensemble piece, as the opera house is reopened after the chandelier disaster with a grand masquerade party. The best harmonies in the show, although they cut the song off before the Phantom's appearance, which is a major plot point. "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" is Christine's second solo aria, this one from her point of view. Like "Think of Me," it showcases Brightman's brilliant soprano in Christine's lament for her dead father. Again, however, the Phantom's appearance is cut off, removing an impressive exchange between the two stars.
The show comes to a head in "Point of No Return," a song which, for non-Phantom
fans, needs some explanation. When the Phantom appears at the masquerade, he presents Andre and Firmin with his own opera, Don Juan Triumphant
, and commands it be performed with his casting. Naturally, Christine is the lead, and just before the cumulative number ("Point of No Return"), the Phantom murders lead tenor Piangi and takes his place in the role of the (of course) masked Don Juan. So while the song is actually part of the play-within-the-play, it is written by the Phantom, so it is his fantasy being acted out. At the end of the song, however, he breaks character, breaking into the melody from "All I Ask of You" to proposition Christine - a gesture cut short by Christine removing his mask to reveal his grotesquely deformed face to the entire audience.
From there, it is all downhill for the Phantom - literally, as he takes Christine through a trap door and back down to his lair. "Down Once More"/"Track Down this Murderer" is simply his mental unraveling as he drags his muse down to "the dungeon of [his] mind," Raoul's pursuit of them (assisted by Madame Giry), and the angry crowd of theater folk determined to rid their opera house of its murderous ghost. The song tells the story, and I won't spoil the ending, although if you've read this far you've probably already seen either the show or the movie.
The Phantom of the Opera [Highlights]
is a must for any Phantom
fan, but even for a complete novice of the show it is an impressive listen. Some of the best voices in musical theater, brilliant arrangements, and a sweeping, gothic storyline are all apparent in this condensed form of the musical score to the longest running show on Broadway - oh, and by the way, that show's pretty decent too.