Once in a lifetime, something incredible comes along. One of those things is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. Loosely inspired by the Gaston Leroux novel, it follows the tragic story of a man forced by his deformity to dwell beneath the Paris Opera House, and the woman he loves.

The Opera House has seen its share of misfortunes, so many in fact that the current manager has decided to retire – to New South Wales. He gladly turns over his former responsibilities, including a diva in the form of Carlotta (Wendy Ferguson), her tag-along fellow performer and friend Piangi (Wynne Evans), and of course an Opera Ghost… one that demands Box Five be kept empty for his use, and also a salary of 1500 francs a month. When Carlotta refuses to go on after an upsetting backstage incident, the performance is turned over to the young and inexperienced Christine Daee (Sierra Boggess), whose voice catches the attention of a former childhood sweetheart, and the newest patron of the arts, Raoul de Chany (Hadley Fraser).

What neither the new managers nor Raoul know is that the ballet dancer turned singer Christine is being trained in the musical arts by a mysterious man that lives beneath the Opera House. Known to her as the Angel of Music (Ramin Karimloo), to the managers as the Opera Ghost, and to the empirical ballet mistress Madame Giry (Liz Robertson) as the Phantom of the Opera, he will do anything in his power to see to it that Christine remains on stage, that she continues to pursue her education beneath his influence, and that Raoul will not win over her heart… even if it leads to his own destruction.

The only true way to experience this magnificent musical is live, but this 25th anniversary production is the next best thing. Its incredible performances outshine the film’s while still maintaining the integrity and structure of the stage production. Quibbles have been made over the cast but in my opinion the pairing of Sierra Boggess, Ramin Karimloo, and Hadley Fraser is perfection. Ramin has the stage presence needed to convey the total control Erik (the Phantom) has over Christine. His delivery of certain lines is unique and there is such heart-wrenching agony in his final moments that I defy you not to be in tears. Sierra is the finest Christine I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them. Her facial expressions, her innocent wonder, and her utter heartache are mesmerizing. Hadley gives the un-empathetic (and at times downright foolish) Raoul a gravity and strength that well offsets his considerably more formidable co-characters.

Veterans of the original production will notice some changes here and there – lyrics have been altered, and the infamous mannequin is missing – but none of it intrudes on the flow and in some instances strengthens it. The stage is limited in the sense that crashing the chandelier is not possible and much of the background is made up of enormous screens, but it’s easy to become accustomed to them and there are times (particularly when the Phantom is sending notes) that it actually assists in the narrative style. On occasion, the camera sweeps across the stage behind the audience but for the most part we forget it is live (other than the well-deserved applause) until the end, when the original cast and four of the most famous Phantoms take the stage. That Michael Crawford does not sing is unfortunate… but that John Owen Jones, Anthony Warlow, Colm Wilkinson, and Sarah Brightman do is glorious.

The costumes are lovely, and if you have never seen the production live it will be an eye-opening glimpse of the cleverness that goes into transitioning between scenes on stage (including costume changes!). If you have never experienced The Phantom of the Opera, or have never seen any performance of it other than the film, rent this, or better yet, buy it. It is truly the performance of a lifetime.

Parental Concerns: Some of the lyrics contain suggestive themes, particularly woven throughout “Past the Point of No Return,” in which Don Juan and his latest conquest contemplate an intimate future encounter (“I have imagined our bodies entwining, defenseless and silent…”). One song (“Poor Fool”) laughs at an unwary husband whose wife is cheating on him with a mute servant boy. Theatrical ogling intrudes; sensuality is present in various songs, and in the influence the Phantom has over Christine (he caresses her, but never inappropriately). Mild profanity intrudes.