Friday, September 27, 2013

Celebrate Musicals Week - Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman

When I was fourteen, I became obsessed with The Phantom of the Opera.  It all began when I saw the 2004 movie with Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum at a store, and decided to get it.  I had seen it once before when I was ten years old, with my cousins during a visit to Ireland.  One of my cousins, who was my age, loved the movie.  At that time, I couldn't understand what she saw in it.  Years later, my feelings toward the musical completely turned around.  After watching the 2004 movie for the first time again in years, I fell in love with the music, characters, the dark themes, and the Gothic story.  I could not understand why I had not liked it before.

My fourteen-year-old-self dived into the world created by the musical and I quickly became a "phan".  After seeing the movie a few more times and enthusiastically researching about it and finding out all about it, I introduced myself to the original Broadway musical from 1986.  I had thought the movie was good, but when I learned of the actual musical, I realized how faded and inferior the movie was in comparison.  Michael Crawford was the original Phantom in the 1980's, when big Broadway musicals became hits, such as Cats and Les Miserables.  Although my list of favorite Phantoms grew, Michael Crawford was always my absolute favorite, and still is.

To me, his Phantom is the best Phantom, and Sarah Brightman's Christine is the best Christine.  Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman became two of my favorite singers of all time.  When I saw this video of him accepting an award for his performance as the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, I was so happy, because he deserved it so much.

Michael Crawford

One of the reasons Michael Crawford is my favorite, is because his Phantom is the most Phantom-like.  I love his hypnotic voice, which captured both the angelic and demonic sides to the Phantom.  His voice is eerie, haunting, and seems to float effortlessly when he sings.  He expresses so much in his voice and with his body, even with his hands.  When I watch him perform as the Phantom, I feel as though I can understand the Phantom on an emotional and psychological level.  His portrayal is very powerful because he puts so much feeling into it, and he encompasses everything that the Phantom is.  He shows the Phantom's dark, mysterious, and elusive side, while also revealing his fragile and vulnerable nature.  He is both destructive and gentle, full of hate for the world that has always mistreated him, and full of love for Christine.  Whenever I hear Michael Crawford sing the part of the Phantom, I hear the pain and torment in his voice.

I have always viewed the Phantom's half-mask as very symbolic, because it shows that he is half dark, half light.  He is torn between the two sides of himself.  This quote from "Stranger Than You Dreamt It" expresses this a lot.

"Can you even dare to look, or bear to think of me 
This loathsome gargoyle 
Who burns in hell, but secretly yearns for heaven  
Secretly, secretly... 
Oh Christine... 
Fear can turn to love 
You'll learn to see, to find the man behind the monster 
This repulsive carcass 
Who seems a beast but secretly dreams of beauty
Secretly, secretly..."

When I was fifteen, my dad introduced me to "Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em", a British comedy show from the 1970's that starred Michael Crawford.  Yes, Michael Crawford is a comedian too.  And did I mention he was also once an acrobat?  That's a lot of talent.  Needless to say, I am a very big fan of his.

Sarah Brightman

Some people dislike Sarah Brightman's voice, which is perfectly fine, since everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I completely disagree that she is the worst Christine, as some people say.  I think her voice sounded perfect for the role, which is no surprise since Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the music to fit her voice and show off her vocal abilities - the part was literally made for her, for goodness sake.  Sadly, Sarah Brightman damaged her voice, so she is no longer able to sing quite as well as she could when she was younger.

This is the music video for the song "The Phantom of the Opera", with Sarah Brightman and the Rock singer Steve Harley, before Michael Crawford was cast as the Phantom.  As a warning, it's very 1980's, but that's why I like it.  I'm glad Michael Crawford was chosen to play the Phantom instead, but I don't intend to bash Steve Harley at all.  People are far too hard on him.  As a rock singer, his singing style is of course very different.

I feel that Sarah Brightman really understood the Romantic aspect of The Phantom of the Opera.  Sarah Brightman's Christine seems to come from a story of the Romantic Era, and she embodies the dark atmosphere that was at the core of Gaston Leroux's Gothic novel.

Many think that Sarah Brightman's eyes are too wide in the video below, or that she lacks expression or the ability to emote, but I disagree.  In "The Music of the Night", Christine is supposed to be in a sort of trance; she is mesmerized by the Phantom, put under his spell.

Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman set the standard for other people who would later play the Phantom and Christine, and without them, there's a good chance we wouldn't have as great a show as we do now.  Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman were a part of The Phantom of the Opera's beginnings, and made it the great success it was.

Although Crawford and Brightman are my favorite Phantom and Christine, I don't really view them as the Phantom or the Christine.  That implies that no one else can be the Phantom or Christine, and that their portrayals were the only good ones, or that they own the roles of Erik and Christine.  Yes, it is my opinion that they are the best Phantom and Christine, but that doesn't mean their portrayals were the only good ones.  There are so many other interpretations and portrayals to appreciate.  It is your decision how to view the story, and you will know whose portrayal of the characters has had the most impact on you.

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