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Phantom plays Nanaimo Theatre

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera is known as the longest-running musical in Broadway history and in London as the second-longest-running West End musical. The musical has played in some 25 countries and 149 cities and sold more than 100 million tickets worldwide, making it one of the highest-grossing entertainment events of all time.
Last week on Monday evening (Oct 3) with my brother Terry, I attended a simulcast via satellite beamed from the Royal Albert Hall in London to the Galaxy Theatre in Nanaimo of the 25th Anniversary Celebration of The Phantom of the Opera. I wish my wife Pat had been able to accompany us as I know she would have loved it. Pat was on the west side of the hump preparing the Timbre! Choir for their upcoming concert on November 6th entitled Love, Laughter & Legends (Music from Beatles to Broadway). Details await a future blog.
In the entertainment business anytime something is incalculably successful, critical backlash seems a given. There are among fans of musical theatre, especially those most serious about the art form, who despise much of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work, opting instead for the more complex compositions of composers such as Stephen Sondheim. The argument runs that much of Webber's work is shallow and many are saddled with ridiculous plot lines - eg Starlight Express, Evita. However, as a lover of musical theatre such criticisms have not dampened my affection for The Phantom of the Opera since first seeing it. At last count I reckon over the years I’ve attended at least nine or ten live performances of the opera/musical including one in New York.
Last Monday night I trotted off to the Galaxy Theatre well before the posted curtain time to stake out good seats. I’m glad I did, as there was an unbilled preshow film history of how The Phantom was put together by the original production team. Film clips taken during the first rehearsals at Webber’s estate and opening night in London’s West End were fascinating to watch. 
Returning home after the simulcast it wasn’t long before the anti-Webber community on the net was slagging the show. Amazing to me was the fact that they’d bothered to attend in the first place. However, for me the event was a wonderful celebration of musical theatre. Yes the work was loaded with a ton of fiery special effects including the infamous crashing chandelier. Still there is a component to this show that remains the secret of its phenomenal success. It’s because the character of the Phantom is so mesmerizing as the perfect anti-hero. 

I was envious of those in London viewing the production in the flesh. Regardless of the time zones, even in the confines of the Nanaimo movie theatre the electrifying energy in London’s Albert Hall could be felt. Seeing it on the big screen was nothing less than mind blowing. The cinematography was amazing with various angles and brow sweating close-ups. At one point I actually saw tears rolling down the faces of the leads.

The huge orchestra perched high above the stage was of a size that would never be affordable, let alone crammed into the average musical theatre pit. The cast at over 200 produced a wall of sound that gave the opera a vitality that could never be experienced in the boundaries of the normal Broadway and West End musical theatre venue. It truly was magnificent.   

The costumes were absolutely stunning with camera close-ups showing the smallest details right down to the feathers in the Phantom's fedora to the intricate bead work on his cape, something many in the 5000-plus audience at the Royal Albert Hall would never be able to see without a powerful set of binoculars. An item I found very useful when I attended a Boston Symphony Prom’s concert in the hall two years ago. Christine's wedding dress was beyond description. At play’s end Maria Bjornson, who designed the costumes and passed away some years ago was given fitting recognition during onstage celebrations that took place after the performance. 

Andrew Lloyd Webber spoke and introduced his ex-wife Sarah Brightman who had sung the role of Christine on opening night 25-years ago. Joined onstage by John Owen Jones (the current Phantom in London), Colm Wilkinson (former Phantom Toronto), and Peter Joback (the new Phantom for London effective March 2012), Brightman performed the haunting Phantom Theme. Michael Crawford the original Phantom also made an appearance. It was a very moving moment.

Googling this past weekend, I found more reviews of the event popping up online - many contrary to my take on the show. Hey, everyone is entitled to their opinion but really, those who cannot bring themselves to praise such a wonderful production in my opinion need to open their minds and hearts to the shear beauty of this particular presentation. 

For those who missed The Phantom of the Opera, there is an encore performance scheduled at the Galaxy in Nanaimo at 1 pm on Saturday, Oct 22. Tickets are available online at or anytime the Galaxy box office is open. 

Photo: Sierra Boggess sings the role of Christine in the encore performance of The Phantom of the Opera scheduled at the Galaxy in Nanaimo at 1 pm on Saturday, Oct 22. 

TV presentation a gem

A few weeks ago I was blindly channel surfing and stumbled upon a CBC biopic based on Richard Gwyn’s book entitled John A: Birth of a Country – Volume I which I read last year. I was riveted to the TV screen for the next two hours. Without a doubt it was the best historical drama I’d seen on the CBC since Pierre Berton’s The National Dream appeared almost 4 decades ago. The following week I tuned in at the same time expecting to see the next episode. I was disappointed when I learned that I’d been watching a pilot film, not the beginning of a historical series based on the life of our country’s first Prime Minister Sir John A Macdonald. 

Reading MacLean’s Magazine this week I learned columnist Andrew Coyne had also stumbled across the unpublicized pilot and had this to say. “At a time when the CBC network is blanketing the airwaves with ads for Battle of the Blades and other bilge, you’d think it could spare some of its PR budget for a project as important as this. It is just too much like the CBC to turn what ought to have been a moment of triumph into a fiasco. Fortunately, there is a remedy. We’ve seen the pilot. Now green-light the rest of the series. Give it a decent time slot. And maybe tell the odd person it’s on.” 

I couldn’t agree more. In the meantime, I’m enjoying reading Richard Gwyn’s Nation Maker – Sir John A. MacDonald: His Life, Our Times – Volume II.

Let there be light

I went looking for light bulbs last week, ones I hoped would save me from firing up a flashlight when groping around the corners of my office. I know it’s all about energy conservation, but those bureaucratic geniuses who’ve forced us to install all those weirdly shaped expensive light bulbs have finally sent me on a quest – to find some of those old bright 100-Watt incandescent bulbs. I did locate a few in a store that the bulb hoarders hadn’t found yet and I’m still keeping my eyes open. 

Although basically I’m onboard the conservation bandwagon, I find the new light bulb technology frustrating. In a nutshell, for folks of my generation there’s just not enough light emitting from the low wattage bulbs to satisfy my tired eyes when reading. And don’t get me going about the bathroom. By the time the fluorescents inside the decorative globes above the mirror warm up I’m through using the facilities and have switched off the lights. 

However, I do have a hallway in my home that has plenty of light, although the area is fraught with danger. The hallway fixtures receive halogen bulbs which have directions attached telling me not to touch the bulb with my naked fingers or it voids the long life warranty and can cause the bulb to explode. Further warning text instructs me to be sure to use only in an enclosed fixture in order to protect people and surroundings from hot flying fragments. More forewarning counsels me not to break the bulb as they contain mercury. Yikes! Imagine, every time the bulbs need changing I have to reach for my safety glasses and leather work gloves. 

I know Hydro is going to look at me with some distain when the power police read my smart meter and note that my power consumption has spiked slightly. Still, I continue to be on the prowl for another case of incandescent bulbs. O dear, I’ve become a hoarder.

PHOTO: It's not Halloween yet but I always get my orange coloured light display on the garden shrubs in time for the Thanksgiving weekend.

Steve Jobs was king of the computer world

Steve Jobs who passed away last week had a huge impact on my life as a musician. The tools I use to write and listen to music have been virtually reversed due to his inventive mind. 
I still have the first computer I ever owned, an Apple II, which I purchased sometime around 1979, a few years after Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak first introduced their Apple I computer to the world. Over the years I’ve owned Atari’s, HP’s, Toshiba’s and Samsung computers. With my two sons and brother’s urging, I finally made the move back to Apple purchasing an iMac to use as my desktop computer and a Macbook Pro laptop. I also acquired an iTouch to transport my music around in my pocket but haven’t yet sprung for an iPad or iPhone. Time and Pat will tell.

I haven’t purchased a CD or DVD in two years, relying instead on Jobs’ online digital music service, the iTunes store. Last week I took a gig preparing the orchestra music for Oceanside’s Bard-2-Broadway Society’s summer theatre presentation of Hello Dolly and wanted to view the movie version as well as listen to a recording of the show. Within minutes I had downloaded to my computer the movie and the original cast albums from both New York and London.

An article I read lately stated that the “impact of the iPods and iTunes on global music culture is equal to and arguably greater than the invention of the phonograph, the portable radio and any previous musical format from reel-to-reel and eight-tracks to the now nearly obsolete compact disc. iTunes revived the single, which most of the major labels had abandoned.”

There’s no doubt that Steve Jobs turned the music industry on its head with his marvelous creations. Today I love the speed at which I can purchase music online but confess I sometimes miss being able to peel the shrink-wrap off a colourful album cover and carefully lay the enclosed 12-inch recording on a turntable. I even remember when record stores had booths where one could spin and listen to a recording artist’s latest 78-rpm single before purchasing it. 

Sadly the local record store is more or less history and it seems that the bookstore could be next with the rise of the iPad and a host of other eReader devices. I will be very reluctant to give up the comforting feel of a physical book in my hands but love the idea I won’t need to lug a ton of tomes with me when travelling.