I’m so sorry for the length of this blog post but you neeeeeeeeeed to read about how fabulous Phantom of the Opera is, how amazing John Owen Jones, Ashley Stillburn and Celinde Schoenmaker are and how lovely Celinde Schoenmaker is.
I can’t even begin to tell you HOW magnificent this weekend has been. Magnificent is such an underrated word, it’s such a Disney word. This weekend has been so wonderful and definitely an amazing ‘pick-me up’ from what has been a tiring few months.
It was my 17th Birthday last Thursday (oh yes… I was a Bonfire Night baby. And no, I wasn’t named Catherine after the Catherine Wheel even though that would have been pretty cool). For my 17th, I was bought tickets for ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ by my amazing parents which has been a musical that I have been longing to see for such a long time.
My parents have previously seen the Phantom of the Opera a couple of years ago for their wedding anniversary and to their disappointment, didn’t enjoy it as much as they had expected to and therefore, they weren’t in a massive rush to see it again. Bad news for me. My parents had agreed to see it again after the cast change announcement that Celinde Schoenmaker was going to take over the role of Christine Daaé from Harriet Jones. And now here we are…
On Saturday 7th November, we saw the matinee performance of Phantom at Her Majesty’s Theatre and I’m absolutely overwhelmed. I had counted down for it for 102 days and it still left me overwhelmed despite all the hype I had given it. Celinde Schoenmaker was playing Christine Daaé alongside John Owen Jones as the Phantom and Ashley Stillburn as Raoul who I had the pleasure of seeing in Les Mis previously. I will never be able to do this musical justice. It was bloody phenomenal.
The costumes are absolutely stunning. The amount of detail that goes into the dresses particularly in the Masquerade scene is unfathomable. I can’t even imagine the amount of effort, time and dedication that was put into creating a single dress. Let alone the 230 costumes used in each show. The chandelier. Oh my, breath-taking. The music alone gives me goosebumps when I’m listening to the 25th Anniversary soundtrack on the bus to and from college. To have been able to witness it first hand live on stage, it blew me away. Literally. It’s my life-long aim to be a pit musician. I want to play my viola alongside Phantom of the Opera (or Les Mis). That’s what I want to do. Forget journalism… Nah, joking. I’ll do both.
Celinde Schoenmaker finished her run as Fantine in Les Miserables in June where I had the pleasure of seeing her portray this role at the Queens Theatre three times. The first performance I ever saw of her was in 2013 and I’ve literally been hooked since. Fantine and Christine are two massively different roles especially with the vocal requirements because Christine is a soprano role but somehow, she slays both. It’s an absolute privilege to have Celinde Schoenmaker as my first live Christine and I can’t imagine anyone could portray the role any better. She captures the emotion through her facial expressions and body language and her voice is something else; entirely flawless.
Ashley Stillburn previously understudied Enjolras in Les Mis. Though never seeing his Enjolras, we have seen him perform as part of the ensemble. On Saturday, he understudied the part of Raoul as Nadim Naaman was on holiday and he was absolutely fantastic. Like seriously fantastic. My favourite line in the show is ‘Can it be? Can it be Christine? Bravo, Bravo’ and he nailed it… To top it off, he was sitting at the table next to me where I ate my dinner after the show. I hope you enjoyed your meal, Ashley.
John Owen Jones is quite spectacular. I was expecting it because come on, it’s JOHN OWEN JONES. I’ve seen performances of him on major anniversaries as Valjean and the Phantom and he is always fabulous. Having played the role of Phantom more than anyone else ever, I hadn’t expected him to deliver such a fresh performance. He was stunning and reduced to me to a burrito of sadness. Quite literally. I’m genuinely speechless and I’m struggling so much to express how amazing they all are.
I was so ridiculously enthralled from the first note to the last. My dad commented that I was genuinely sitting on the edge of my seat. I do apologise to whoever was sitting behind me because I must have been greatly irritating. I was lucky enough to sit front row and towards the middle. From the seats, we were literally close enough to touch the stage. I resisted the urge to though, don’t worry. Amazing, amazing, amazing. When the cast were taking their bows, Celinde Schoenmaker winked at me… AGAIN! She winked at me before when she was taking her bows for Fantine in Les Miserables. She remembered me! My idol/role model remembered me!
Following the show, we went to the Stage Door to watch the cast members walk out and to congratulate them whilst they pass by. I hate intruding on people so I will always stand back at Stage Door and let members of cast to walk past without feeling the need to stop and say hello to me. It’s already enough that they’ve delivered such a phenomenal performance so I really don’t want to hassle them further when they’re leaving the theatre to get food/go home.
Celinde came out of stage door and greeted fans waiting. Eventually she came up to me and said ‘Hey you, I was wondering when I was going to see you again! It’s been so long’ and she hugged me and held my hand. She hugged me and recognised me from six whole months ago. This will never, ever leave me. I’m so humbled by the fact that my favourite musical theatre icon who has so many fans remembers me! She asked me last time I met her at Queens Theatre in May when she would next see me so she thought I wasn’t coming for months because of how long it’s been. She told me to stop shaking, again. How people stay composed when they meet the person they look up to the most strikes me as odd. How are you not a shaky mess?!
She asked me whether I enjoyed the show and whether I’ve seen it before. My parents replied back saying they had seen it but I haven’t and that the show they’d previously seen was no where near as amazing as it was just. Obviously because Celinde wasn’t in the cast before (she pointed at me and told me that was a good answer!). She asked us where we lived because she vaguely remembered us telling her/reading it last time. She REMEMBERS. And she asked me if I could sing… If only, if only. According to my dad, I can and I sing in the shower a lot. He told Celinde that I sing in the shower… Embarrassing much?! She reckons I could sing. He told her I play the viola. Celinde Schoenmaker told me to carry on violining because that’s awesome. More like, this is awesome. She hugged me again whilst my dad took some photos.
I’m really aware of how much this blog post is dragging because I’m bordering on 1250 words but I have to tell every tiny little bit of detail about the show and meeting Celinde. Saturday has been the best afternoon in my entire life. It’s made me so so so happy. Thank you for everything Phantom and Celinde.