I have just spent the last ten minutes staring at my blank computer screen wondering where I’m even going to begin with this blog post so this is going to be a good hearty ramble. If you make it to the end then you really deserve a huge pat on the back. My heart has been shattered into a thousand and one tiny pieces, all thanks to final show of the 2016/17 West End Phantom of the Opera cast this weekend (Saturday 2nd).
How my Phantom journey began…
A teensy-weensy confession: I was a complete stranger to the wonders of the Phantom of the Opera until Celinde Schoenmaker was cast as Christine Daae. I had heard of the musical and could recognise the title song if I heard it being played somewhere, but besides from that, I knew nothing of the show. As a 17th birthday treat, my parents booked front row tickets for me. At this point, I had seen Celinde in Les Mis three times; once during her first stint as Fantine and twice during her last run. I was utterly blown away by her glorious voice. During her run in Les Mis, I was lucky enough to have met her three times and each time, I was touched by her generosity and kind nature. Meeting Celinde was my first ever stage door experience and I was taken aback by how lovely she was despite having just performed in the most emotionally draining show on the West End.
So there’s your back-story on how I discovered Celinde and how I ended up seeing her 6 times in Phantom: it was at the most pivotal point of my life where I was determined to find my happiness again (see context here) and I found it in musical theatre, ironically!
Now I must admit, Phantom of the Opera has completely stole my heart. I am besotted with this musical. Dare I say, it might be my favourite?
Cast Change Day…
From 7th November 2015 to now, I’ve seen the show 9 times with an array of different Phantom, Raoul and Christine combinations and it’s been utterly incredible. Reviews can be found somewhere on this blog.
On the 2nd September, Celinde Schoenmaker, Ben Forster and Nadim Naaman took their final bows in Phantom of the Opera alongside some of the incredible ensemble cast members. I bought these tickets 292 days prior to the performance because I was adamant I was going to bid farewell to the talented cast from the front row. I waited with much trepidation and excitement for the last show. Biggest juxtaposition ever. Obviously, I booked several performances in between. I can’t wait that long without having a Phantom fix. It’s safe to say that it exceeded all expectations (like it always does) and I have been left in complete awe; wallowing in my own misery and heartbreak.
The final show was electric. So much energy. This won’t be a review of Phantom because it simply wouldn’t be fair to analyse the performances of the cast with it being the final show however, a few words must be said about the talented cast members.
I think I have found “my Phantom” in Ben Forster. Having the misfortune of booking the show 5 times and missing him each time due to holidays and illness, I only had the pleasure of seeing Ben 3 times but his Phantom is moving and engaging; he encapsulates the character well and captivates me throughout the show. I’m always surprised to find myself “Team Phantom” when Ben owns the role because c’mon, he’s not a good guy, not really, but he makes me pity him and I long for Christine to choose him. His final performance was incredible. I could see genuine emotion (and I’m sure a few tears) during his final lair which reduced me to a crying mess. He sung everything with absolute force. What an incredible talent. I’m absolutely gutted I can’t make it to any of his Elf dates.
There are no words to describe Celinde Schoenmaker that can do her justice. She is utterly incredible. Her performances are effortless and she flawlessly hits every note. Her Christine matures from being beautifully innocent to grounded and determined; everything Christine Daaé should be and her voice is glorious. Her final performance was bloody emotional. Her Think of Me cadenza was the most sensational I’ve ever heard. She cried before and after her rendition of Wishing and I was absolutely sobbing. I’ve never cried so much at a show before, I cried even more than I did at Miss Saigon’s Final Flight. It has been an absolute joy following her West End career and I’m so proud. She was delightful at stage door as always. I’ve booked stalls tickets for the Royal Albert Hall where she’s performing in “Night at the Musicals” in November A Celinde-less West End is a duller West End.
Nadim Naaman’s Raoul is the most perfect, compassionate, protective portrayal. Many Raoul’s are guilty of being too arrogant making for an unattractive character. With Nadim’s perspective on the role, you really do understand why Christine chooses him. The chemistry between Celinde and Nadim is incredibly beautiful to watch. It melts my heart. His last performance was insane; he sang everything with absolute might. His Raoul will be greatly missed.
I’m thrilled that Lara Martins and Paul Ettore Tabone are staying on for another year. Their friendship radiates on stage and it’s an utter joy to watch. Joanna Strand as Madame Giry was brilliant.
So here’s a fond farewell to the 2016/17 cast of Phantom of the Opera, what an amazing two years of memories!
I’m saying goodbye to Phantom for a lil while so I can recover from the most incredible performance… and to save my pennies too.
It’s over now, the music of the night…