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Blu-ray Review: Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall

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Is there anyone on this planet who hasn’t seen Andrew Lloyd Weber’s smash stage musical The Phantom of the Opera by this point? Of course there are (this reviewer included), and for those unfortunate souls, this 2012 Blu-ray release is about as close as you’re going to get without being there.

Filmed at a performance staged in October 2011 to commemorate the show’s 25th anniversary (this performance was also simulcast live to movie theaters), this Blu-ray of the recorded broadcast is very good news for devoted Phantom phans. While recent Blu-rays of Lloyd Weber’s Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (as well as the Blu-ray of another hit musical Les Miserables) were “concert” presentations, cut down versions of the original show with less ornate staging, this is the full-on stage production. Running over 2.5 hours, this is the best version of Phantom ever made for home viewing, far superior to the somewhat “meh” 2006 feature film version.

As performed before a rapt audience at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall (a historic theater that’s so perfect for this show that it becomes a character in the story), this production shows all of the ornate scenery, effects, theatricality, and just plain razzle-dazzle that helped make Phantom a long-running smash all over the world. Phantom set a new standard for elaborate musical staging (yep, we probably have this show to thank for Spider-Man currently swinging on—and sometimes plummeting from—the ceiling on Broadway).

Of course, the intimacy of the camera draws us into the performances as well as showing us the spectacle. Ramin Karimloo turns in a career-defining performance as the Phantom (he played the character on stage for years) and Sierra Boggess is entrancing as Christine, his muse both in music and passion.

And the show itself? The music is somewhat derivative (the show’s main musical theme is right out of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”) but melodious, easy on the ears, and memorable. The story has all of the melodrama that this kind of semi-operatic musical requires. The whole thing can get cheesy at times—such as the disco arrangement of the title song—but it’s beautifully staged, undeniably entertaining cheese. The Blu-ray transfer is absolutely flawless, offering razor-sharp video definition that brings out every color of the multi-hued, spectacularly costumed, art-directed, and lit production, and the sound is breathtaking, with a 5.1 mix that brings out every facet of the superb orchestration and amazing voices. As a bonus, the program also features guest appearances by previous cast members, including the original Phantom (Michael Crawford) and Christine (Sarah Brightman). All in all, about the best example I’ve seen of successfully bringing a real musical theater experience to your home theater.

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