I’ve long had something of a love-hate relationship with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera.
The show came out sometime in the late 1980s, and ten years would pass before I’d see it on stage myself. But for a time, the songs of Phantom were…how to put this…ubiquitous. That music was everywhere, and after a short while, I was Phantom‘d out.
Late in my senior year of high school, an amateur chorus in a neighboring town was looking for brass players for a concert they were doing…of Phantom songs. Then, at my summer music camp, we played an arrangement of Phantom‘s songs in the band, and then the very next year, in the chorus, we did a choral arrangement of the same Phantom songs. In college, my orchestra did yet another arrangement of Phantom songs.
Every year, my college had a music competition/festival thing in which high school students from all over Iowa and vicinity would come to play with college musicians and compete for scholarships. Those students vying for vocal scholarships would perform solos at the main concert. One year, no fewer than three young baritones did “The Music of the Night”.
And nearly every student at school had Phantom in their CD collections. Most had the single-disc “highlights” record, but the hard-cores had the “Complete show” double-CD edition. And you’d often hear those discs blasting out windows and open doors, during that pounding motif on the organ — you know the one — that practically demanded to be played at Max Volume.
For two to three years of my life, it was Phantom, Phantom, Phantom. I got sick of the whole damned thing without ever seeing it. (And I wasn’t disposed to dislike Andrew Lloyd Webber on principle, either — I’d seen Cats with my family and loved it.)
Phantom fever finally died off a bit, as all things do, and I pretty much forgot about it, until 1999, when Shea’s Buffalo Theater underwent some major refurbishment, the focus of which was expanding the stage so the theater could host the major touring productions of the day. This meant that Phantom of the Opera could finally play in Buffalo. Naturally, The Wife and I went. It was May 18, 1999; I remember that date because the next day we went to see Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace on its opening day. We’ve always referred to that as “Phantom Weekend” ever since.
Seeing the show was quite the production, and it was nice to at last hear all those songs I’d been sick of for years in their proper context, as well as others that I did not know so well. In 2004, a movie version came out, and as I recall, it was reviewed pretty harshly, and we didn’t see it — until last week, that is, when I saw the DVD at the library and thought, “Well, why not? How bad can it be?”
And it turned out, not very bad at all. In fact, I thought it a fine production overall, well-sung and well-acted. The voice of Gerard Butler, who played the Phantom himself, took a small bit of getting used to, but I thought he was generally excellent, and the film puts the gorgeous spectacle of the stage show front and center, with lots of sweeping camera shots through that magnificent Parisian opera house. (Although I did think that the Phantom’s lair, deep in the sewers and catacombs beneath the Opera, looked a bit too clean.) What was really cool, though, was the degree to which The Daughter loved the movie. She’s watched it a couple additional times since, asked me to track down the music for her MP3 player, and, when she thinks no one is listening, she’s been singing songs from the show. I find that awesome.
Anyway, as this is a Something for Thursday post, I need to put something musical here, to wrap up. I know that Michael Crawford is generally seen as the canonical Phantom, but I always found something slightly “off” about his voice, so I’ve never had the problem of comparing Phantoms to Crawford in my head. Colm Wilkinson’s voice is much more to my liking, and it’s his I’ll feature now. Here’s Colm Wilkinson, singing “The Music of the Night”.