Every summer, my boys pick a favorite movie or set of movies to watch and play-out with their chest full of costumes or toys. Three summers ago, it was “Star Wars” and “The Last Airbender.” Last summer, it was “Star Wars” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” This past summer, “Star Wars” was again a favorite, but the second set of movies was quite a surprise to me. They found themselves enthralled with “The Phantom of the Opera,” and its sequel, “Love Never Dies.”
My mom had surprised me with a DVD of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall” for my birthday. I didn’t even know it had come out. The musical had long been a favorite of mine, but its memory was lovingly tucked away in the blankets of my mind.
I remember being my son’s age, when I heard it for the first time. My father and I were driving to my grandparents’ house in Virginia when he slipped in a cassette tape of “The Phantom of the Opera.” I remember giggling. Carlotta sounded so silly and well, “operary.”(Yes, I am aware that that is not a word.) But then I heard Sarah Brightman, and tears came to my eyes. By the time I heard Michael Crawford, I was hooked.
For years, every time my father and I took a trip together, we’d listen to the Phantom. I’d play Christine, he’d play the Phantom and we belted out the lyrics doing our best to bring down the chandelier and we would have succeeded should one have been present.
Years passed and though the songs were burnt into our memory, the cassette tapes were packed away and soon forgotten.
By the age of 21, I had found the man of my dreams and was engaged to be married. One evening while we were watching TV, a commercial came on for “The Phantom of the Opera.” It was to be playing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. I jumped for the phone and called my mom. We surprised my father with a set of tickets to the musical for his birthday. My fiancé joined us, but he was skeptical. He’d never liked musicals.
I desperately tried to explain that Phantom was different, but he wouldn’t or couldn’t believe me.
Well, his opinion soon changed. As soon as our Phantom took the stage and sang “Music of the Night,” he was hooked. We purchased a CD of “The Phantom of the Opera,” and listened to it regularly.
A string quartet played “All I Ask of You” as our first dance at our wedding and life continued on. Once again, the songs were burned into our hearts and minds, but eventually the music faded and the cd’s collected dust.
Fast forward another fifteen years and two children later. After a long afternoon of swimming, the boys were tired and arguing over what movie to watch. Frustrated that they couldn’t agree on a movie to relax to, I said “Stop, I get to choose.” I unwrapped the 25th Anniversary DVD, sat down between the two of them and the movie began. Right on cue, they laughed at Carlotta. As soon as Christine(Sierra Boggess) took the stage, they went silent and as soon as the Phantom(Ramin Karimloo) appeared, they were entranced. They didn’t move an inch for the entire movie and when it was over, they asked to watch it again. I said, “No, maybe tomorrow” and shooed them to the basement where they commenced a summer-long “Phantom of the Opera” costume party.
They sang the songs while the explored the backyard. They hummed the music on the swings. They made fifty different toy chandeliers and put on extravagant plays. We put a copy of the Phantom on my iPod and soon we were singing to it in the car. We bought the movie version of “The Phantom of the Opera” with Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum and frequently watched it. We preordered a DVD copy of “Love Never Dies,” and anxiously awaited its arrival and listened to its music in the car.
The boys became such huge, dedicated “phans,” that John and I decided it would be fun to take them to see it live on Broadway. None of us had been to New York City, so we thought it would be an exciting adventure. We planned months ahead of time and got fantastic seats for a show in early September. We found out “our” Phantom would be Hugh Panaro and we watched videos of him on Youtube.
The excitement kept building, but it reached a crescendo of unexpected heights one week before we left for New York. We found out Ramin Karimloo, the Phantom in the 25th Anniversary DVD and the Phantom on the Love Never Dies album on our iPods was actually going to be in Baltimore, twenty-five minutes from our house, promoting his new album, “Ramin Karimloo, Human Heart” one week after we would be getting home from Broadway! Pandemonium, I tell you. When John bought the tickets, the boys were so excited I don’t think they slept for two nights!
Needless to say, for two magical weekends we were in Phantom heaven. Seeing “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway was incredible! Hugh Panaro truly made the Phantom his own. His portrayal of the Phantom was far different than any I’ve seen, but no less magnificent. His Phantom took on the persona of a bully trying to hide his deep seated emotional pain. His Phantom, laughed and smiled mischievously, taunting Christine and Raoul and successfully disguising the pain that tortured his soul until he could no longer hide it. When the facade of Panaro’s Phantom cracked in the final scene, it was emotionally tangible to everyone. Heartbreaking, beautiful, real and different...
Trista Moldovan played a perfect Christine and though I had watched Phantom repeatedly over the summer, her performance of “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” left me in tears. I was also particularly impressed by the performances of Kyle Barisich(Raoul), Kenneth Kantor(Monsieur Firmin), Cristin Hubbard(Madame Giry) and Christian Sebek(Ubaldo Piangi).
The boys were speechless. The entire performance blew them away!
The following weekend we found ourselves anxiously waiting in line to see Ramin Karimloo-the man we had watched and listened to, all summer, as the Phantom.
We had purchased his new album titled, “Ramin Karimloo, Human Heart,” and listened to it often. Though the boys were most interested in the Phantom selections, “Music of the Night” and “Til I Hear You Sing Once More,” his other songs had found their way into our hearts.
When Ramin took the stage with his three bandmates, Steve Young, Sergio Ortega and Sheri Miller, our boys were starstruck. They had found new role-models, and now, amidst trombone and viola lessons, drum and piano playing, we are now looking into voice lessons for the boys.
My husband and I were blown away by the talent of all the musicians sitting in front of us. We attend concerts regularly, and though we’ve seen some amazing musicians, none have ever been as talented, vocally, as Ramin. His voice is powerful, and no DVD, youtube video or album you listen to can capture the power of his voice. There are no words to describe it. ‘Ethereal’ comes close, but it still doesn’t do him justice.
Not only that, the variety of music the band played exhibited a talent dynamic that not many groups show. They played show-tunes, bluegrass and rock-an ecletic mix for sure, but amazing none-the-less. Ramin’s cover of “Raining in Baltimore” was heart-stopping and I dare say, far better than the original, which I love desperately.
Ramin also changed their set-list at the spur of the moment which we have never seen done on stage. I think this ability exemplifies pure talent. So many musicians we’ve seen stick to the exact same set-list for an entire tour. It becomes second nature and easy and reduces the chance of mistakes, making it routine and sometimes boring for the bands. The fact that Ramin could say, “Hey, let’s leave the set-list a bit and do “Bring Him Home,” and the entire band instantaneously tunes in and plays the song perfectly says a lot for the coherence of the band and the overall talent they have. We were beyond impressed and I sincerely hope there is another tour soon.
At the concert, we found out that Ramin Karimloo is good friends with Hadley Fraser, the man who played Raoul on the 25th Anniversary Phantom DVD, and they have a band called Sheytoons. Though Hadley Fraser wasn’t there, Ramin did sing some Sheytoons songs including, “Losing” and “She is Loved.” Once again, amazing, and I sincerely hope that they will get an album produced sometime soon. Hadley is now recording his first album, and my husband and I are anxiously awaiting news of a tour in the US.
So concludes our Phantom of the Opera summer. Once again, the Phantom is fading into the shadows of our memory and has been replaced by Ramin’s haunting and beautiful songs “Cathedrals” and “Coming Home.”
Both boys are going to be different versions of the Phantom for Halloween. My oldest, Brad, will be in standard Phantom attire while Ethan will be dressed as the Masquerade Phantom.
I often wonder if the Phantom will reappear again for our family, a decade or two from now. Perhaps we’ll be taking our boys and their partners to see the musical, or perhaps grandchildren.
Only time will tell, but I will embrace his spectral appearance and fondly remember the decades of memories his mysterious, masked face has created.
Causes Courtney Filigenzi Supports
American Cancer Society
Army of Women