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Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular - 2 September 2012 7:00pm: The Finale

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Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular - 2 September 2012 7:00pm: The Finale Empty Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular - 2 September 2012 7:00pm: The Finale

Post  Raphael Fri Oct 12, 2012 7:05 pm

On Labor Day 2006, I first set foot in the Phantom Theatre at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino. It was an evening that would resurrect my passion for this musical after several years of dormancy. And tonight, the night before Labor Day 2012, I found myself entering that theatre one last time to say farewell to a cast and production that I’d grown very close to over the past six and a half years.

Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular - 2 September 2012 7:00pm: The Finale IMG_0364

This is not so much a theatre review as it is a love letter to my favorite “Phantom” production. A love letter to its cast, its crew, and its truly unique staging. It’s a love letter to a vision of “Phantom” that will never be seen again.

And it was, in a word, spectacular.

I’d known the end was coming for nearly nine months, but that night came more swiftly than I could have imagined. It seemed like I had just arrived in Las Vegas and suddenly there I was getting dressed for my last trip to the Phantom Theatre. The buildup to that night was incredible, and more than a bit of a blur (what with all the getting settled in and distributing tickets on day 1, scrambling around to get cast gifts delivered plus the chaos of Costume Night on day 2, a phan group dinner and double-dipping the show on day 3, and a phan gathering the morning of day 4). The last few shows were sold out, and with each performance the audience response grew and grew in intensity. On closing night, the energy in the lobby as people were entering the theatre was palpable and pretty overwhelming. While many of my friends were mingling in the lobby, I slipped inside and took my seat – wanting a moment to myself to take in the sight of the auditorium in relative solitude one final time. Once the Phantom made the opening announcement and the audience erupted with cheers and applause, I knew this would be a closing night for the books.

Once Michael Lackey’s most awesome Auctioneer banged his gavel and the show began, the entire scene felt far more somber to me. My mind was half in and half out of the show. While I tried to enjoy the performance, it was like every line, every moment, was water slipping through my fingers; reminding me that this would be the last time I’d see this cast and this version of my favorite musical. If the closing was affecting me that way, I could only imagine how the actors themselves were feeling. But I tried my best to focus and hold things together and remember to enjoy myself.

As Old Raoul, Andrew Ragone really played up the broken, lonely man the Vicomte had become as (if you interpret the scene as a vision of the afterlife when he is dying) the last surviving witness of those events so many years ago. His voice was feeble and his body language conveyed the pain the memories brought forth. When he sang, “Will you still play when all the rest of us are… dead,” Andrew’s voice trembled slightly as he turned away from the music box, the memories overwhelming him.

With a shower of sparks, the overture began and the audience roared with applause as Maria (the chandelier) began her final flight. We whooped and hollered as she assembled above us and the auditorium was restored to its original glory. The show had just begun and we were already acting like we were at a rock concert, so I wondered how we’d maintain that energy throughout the rest of the show.

Throughout its six-year run, the show has been blessed with arguably the most talented cast of all the North American productions and possibly worldwide. In addition, it repeatedly brought in fresh faces to populate its roles (even the understudies were of the utmost quality), so no matter who was onstage, you were guaranteed a top-caliber lineup. And every cast member, from principal to swing, was onstage for the final performance (Dance Captain Courtney Combs could be seen standing with Marisa Paull and Brianne Morgan as they sized up Lawson Skala’s Firmin, for instance). They not only made the stage seem more occupied, but the choral elements sound fuller. At the same time, it was difficult to try to take everything in – my eyes were darting here and there trying to capture each and every actor’s performance for posterity:

  • The Slave Master (Dustin Layton) and Carlotta (Joan Sobel) openly flirting with each other.
  • A Wild Woman (Arsenia Soto) trying to get a word in with Lefevre (Doug Carfrae) only to be brushed aside in his haste to introduce the new managers.
  • Monsieur Reyer (Ted Keegan) instructing the Princess (Sarah Elizabeth Combs) who was mouthing the words in time with Carlotta as the diva performed her private rendition of “Think of Me”.
  • Larry Wayne Morbitt’s Piangi (fearful of being replaced as the diva’s boy toy) sending the Slave Master stumbling wildly away from Carlotta when he tried to comfort her after the backdrop fell.

There was a long applause break as Carlotta stormed out, causing Larry to stand there after his huffy walk across the stage and wait before he could deliver his “Amateurs!” line and exit himself. And while the managers seemed to ponder what to do about the loss of the prima donna, Brianne’s Meg gestured to Christine as if to say, “Hang on, I have an idea…” while Christine had a questioning look on her face, unsure as to what her friend had in mind. The enthusiasm Brianne gave off as she volunteered Christine for the role earned her the title of best friend – the kind who’s always got your back and has confidence enough for the both of you.

As Christine, Kristi Holden’s first notes were very timid and quavering, and I enjoyed the reaction of the cast to her audition (one of the Hannibal soldiers even leaned in and cupped a hand to his ear) while Brianne’s expression and body language conveyed her continuing support – a sort of, “Oh Christine, come on! Please, I know you can do this!” And when Christine showed her ability to the amazement of the others, Firmin’s face lit up with dollar signs as he saw the potential in the young chorus girl while the scene transitioned to the gala night.

Think of Me:
Kristi’s journey over the course of her time with Phantom Las Vegas has been a great one. Starting off as a typical “classic” Christine, wherein her gorgeous voice overshadowed the acting, Kristi soon balanced it with little moments that broke her out of the traditional Christine mold a bit and made the part her own. Her vocals seemed effortless that night, making the lyrics I’d heard countless times before even more poignant. Her cadenza was strong and pure, and we made sure to keep the applause going until the upstage curtain fell in the next scene.

Angel of Music:
Brianne shined here, as always, in one of her featured scenes. “Phantom” was Brianne’s first starring role in a major musical production and I had the great privilege of seeing her grow as a performer over the past six years. Already starting off as a great dancer and actress, her voice quickly developed into one that proved a match to any of the Christines she was paired with, becoming a true triple-threat – a rarity in the business nowadays. She would even subtly change her performance in accordance with the Christine she was performing with – sometimes playing Meg as the younger, enthusiastic friend or as a more mature, confident one – yet these changes were always incorporated seamlessly.

From a coy tilt of her head and shrugging of her shoulders as she asked Christine about her mysterious tutor to the expression of worry and concern about her friend’s unusual response, Brianne kept her character alive and involved, never allowing Meg to become just a device to move the story forward. Meg’s arc – uncovering the mystery of this Angel of Music, the Phantom of the Opera, and the secrets that her mother refuses to share – begins here, and Brianne continued to develop it throughout the show – something no other Meg I’ve seen has done before but was a staple of Brianne’s interpretation.

Little Lotte/The Mirror:
Full disclosure: the phans in attendance conspired to start applause breaks at certain points in the show if the general audience failed to do so (in order to make it feel like an opening night performance), and applause for the Phantom appearing in mirror was one of them. But to be honest, we really didn’t need to lead the charge much at all – they seemed to know spontaneously the best spots to do so. That being said, the burst of applause when Anthony Crivello made his final appearance in the mirror brought a smile to my face.

Phantom of the Opera:
I should mention my appreciation for the Phantom and Christine doubles (Dustin Layton, Donald Williams, Jordan Ashley, and Amelia Abrahams, if I’m not mistaken), who do a wonderful job not just pulling of that wonderfully simple visual trick, but also for acting the scene out and giving it personality. I would have cued an applause break for the boat entering from the wings (just like the old days when Phantom first opened), but the mist was so thick it obscured my view from the front row. That’s another thing I’ll miss about Phantom Las Vegas: sitting in the front row and having the mist roll over the orchestra pit and right into your face. I probably should have bottled the stuff – I bet I could have made a fortune.

Music of the Night:
As I’ve said in previous reviews, Anthony’s Phantom has evolved over time. And while there were elements and affectations that he introduced later in the run that weren’t to my taste, the underlying quality of a stoic older man with a seething passion just below the surface and a Svengali-like power over this young woman has always been a constant and is one that I’ve always enjoyed. During Christine’s cadenza at the end of the title song, his perfectly-timed gestures seemed to control her voice like a conductor leading an orchestra, and in this scene they seemed to extend to control her movements as well, such as drawing his arm in a circle like a lasso, then closing his fist and pulling it in to have her follow him to the portcullis.

Speaking of, after Kristi rushed away from Anthony at the portcullis came the moment I had been dreading. All week Anthony had apparently been struggling with a sore throat and using an alternate note for his “Be!” for the last couple of performances. As the moment approached, I was praying he’d be able to hit it this time. And he pulled it off, not with all the strength I’d heard in him previously, but still done admirably. As compensation, I think, it seemed like his acting was more refined and defined, falling in that happy medium between his original interpretation and his later, more affectation-laden interpretation.

When Kristi first joined the cast, she played this scene in the classic style (read: hypno!Christine). There’s nothing really wrong with that, but Vegas Christines already had a history of breaking the mold, so as she continued on with the show, Kristi’s characterization in MotN began to lean towards a more half aware, half mesmerized one with a few unique touches. As Anthony sang, “Touch me, trust me,” Kristi’s hand shook slightly as she reached up to touch his mask, a lovely little embellishment I’d noticed in her performance for the past several months.

Stranger than You Dreamt It:
Anthony’s antics at the organ could get a little over-the-top at times, but he’d dialed it back to a degree that I could believe him as an enthusiastic artist in the throes of creation. Also, while I like a Phantom that seems to lose all composure when he’s deprived of his mask, there is something to be said about Anthony’s more “angry yet in control” approach to the first unmasking. It feels to me very Leroux-esque and as a change of pace, I enjoy it. Anthony did seem to take a leaf from (the other original Vegas Phantom) Brent Barrett’s portrayal in this scene when, while crawling along the ground, he suddenly lurched forward towards Christine, to which Kristi recoiled and thrust a hand out in a very Mary Philbin-like manner to keep him at bay. Loved it.

Notes/Prima Donna:
Much attention from fans is spent on the Phantom and Christine, so what I love about this scene is that it really showcases all the other principals from a character point-of-view as well as let them shine vocally and acting-wise. And with the truncated nature of the Vegas production, I’ll take everything I can get.

What I’ve always loved about John Leslie Wolfe’s Monsieur André is that not only is he the art aficionado of the pair, but as a person Wolfe’s André always seemed to be a step behind everyone else (the confused pause in the dressing room scene when Firmin and his wife imply a “familiarity” between the Vicomte and their new star, the double-take he gives after reading the Phantom’s note like it was a pleasant fan letter at first only to realize afterward what it’s actually saying, etc.) Conversely, Lawson Skala as Firmin is pure businessman (his line, “In addition he wants MONEY!” he practically spits out with disgust) who seems like he was dragged kicking and screaming into André’s buy-out of the opera house – having absolutely no time for the histrionics of these “creative types.” This is best exemplified in the miniature hissy fit he has when André tries to prompt him into convincing Carlotta that they aren’t going to forsake her for the new girl.

Notes/Prima Donna is Joan Sobel’s one big scene to do something with her character. Joan (who opened the Las Vegas production in the role of Madame Firmin) had plenty to play with here, and definitely appeared wounded by being snubbed. Through the first half of PD, you could see the resistance she had to the managers’ wooing of her. But interestingly, it is only after Piangi (marvelously played by Phantom vet Larry Wayne Morbitt for the entire run of the show) steps forward with his arms outstretched and sings, “Sing, prima donna, once more!” does she fully decide to accept the managers’ pleas. And when she blows a kiss to him while the managers are spinning her around in the chair, it does a lot to solidify the relationship between the two of them. Larry’s Piangi is the ever-faithful cheerleader, slightly bumbling but always endearing, making his demise later in the show carry more weight. Having been in the original production prior to debuting the role in Vegas, he always managed to carry the essence of the character over, giving him greater substance in an unfortunately reduced role.

But while Firmin, André and Piangi were busy campaigning for Carlotta’s return to the stage, story thread B featuring Raoul, Madame Giry, and Meg was in full force. Andrew’s line, “If you didn’t write it, who did?” at the beginning of the scene was delivered with so much worry and confusion it really showed Raoul’s concern for Christine. It was a far cry from other Raouls I’d seen in the past who say the line with annoyance or irritation or even as a simple question.

This scene also allowed Brianne to further progress her character’s arc. When Phantom announced his casting demands, Meg reacted by looking at her mother who immediately shot her down with a glare. Undeterred, Meg tried to peek over Raouls’ shoulder by standing en pointe as he read the various notes on the managers’ desk (you’re gonna need to get a fireman’s ladder to accomplish that feat, Brianne) and when Raoul asked Giry if the Phantom and the Angel of Music were one and the same, as she turned her back on him refusing to answer, Meg swiftly stepped into her field of vision as if demanding an answer herself. All this plus her trademark eye rolls and expressions to the managers actions at the beginning of the song that keep her character engaged in what’s going on around her.

All in all, the scene was wonderfully sung. Personally I feel that Prima Donna is the most technically brilliant numbers in the show in the manner of how the cast’s voices weave in and out of each other, bringing prominence to certain characters and what they’re saying throughout the song. The huge round of applause they received at the end was most definitely well-deserved.

Il Muto:
There was lots to love in this scene – Andrew stressing the words “Box Five” as if in outward defiance of the Phantom’s demands, the giddy entrance of Nicole Pryor, Patrick Leveque, Ted Keegan and Brianne as the Countess’ entourage, and Marc Cedric Smith’s throat-slitting gesture followed by raising his cane to whack Serafimo. Like I said, a lot to love.

And in a bit of spontaneity, Joan threw Kristi onto the bed after the Phantom’s first outburst. It wasn’t as epic as the same incident at the San Francisco closing (Patricia Hurd screamed her line at the top of her lungs and Lisa Vroman had more air time), but it was a nice divergence from the norm nonetheless.

Oh, and forget about the Serafimo ass volcano (although Kristi does a five-star job at it), the Phantom hanging off the chandelier, and the most awesome hanging stagehand stunt – Ted’s light-as-a-feather hop off the lounge to pick up Serafimo’s skirt MAKES this scene for me.

All I Ask of You:
Andrew Ragone is a quintessential Raoul, and rivals Steve Barton as my all-time favorite Vicomte de Chagny. The Las Vegas Raouls (of which there were three) got progressively better with each casting and I honesty don’t think they could have found anyone better than Andrew. From the beginning of the scene when his forceful insistence in trying to convince Christine that the Phantom doesn’t exist changes to sympathy and concern the moment she utters the word “threaten,” to the deep kiss he plants on her hand at the end, Andrew took a rather thinly-written role and filled it with more warmth, strength, and compassion than any other actor I’d seen in all my years as a phan. And a strong Raoul makes for a stronger love triangle. Like Brianne, Andrew’s interpretation would change in subtle ways depending on which Christine he was paired with, making the relationship with each Christine unique and special.

There was a real earnestness in the song from both Andrew and Kristi – giving the duet a great deal of intimacy. The applause break at the end of the song (a moment that for some odd reason doesn’t usually get applause) lasted quite awhile, which forced Andrew and Kristi into the longest rooftop kiss ever (around 30 seconds) – the audience’s applause prolonging the kiss which in turn made the audience applause even more until the conductor pulled the trigger and cued the scene to continue.

In lieu of an intermission, Vegas had the opera house façade, which I know got applause early in the run but I had rarely heard it myself over the years – until the final night.

André’s costume reveal also got a great reaction – there’s nothing like a round of applause when you’re in a skintight leotard to make you feel like a man (and suddenly wonder if you remembered to wear a support undergarment). And as the managers took to the stage and the opera house façade rose up into the air, we applauded again as the giant Manolo Blahnik staircase rotated into view, revealing the cast while the Little Band entered from the wings. It was too bad Brianne didn’t break out the hip-swish one last time. I think she stopped doing that years ago – around the time that I brought binoculars with me even though I was sitting in the front row (I didn’t USE them! I SWEAR I didn’t!).

Another point I’d like to mention is Andrew’s line, “But why is it secret? What have we to hide?” He delivered it with great frustration bordering on anger that appeared out of place considering how amiable he was throughout the first half of the show. But in hindsight, it does give Raoul more facets to his character than just being the handsome, charming suitor, as his opposition to the Phantom would escalate rapidly for the remainder of the story. Besides, Christine’s been insisting they keep their engagement a secret for the past six months, so the guy’s gotta have a serious case of blue ring finger.

I paid special attention to the dancing and it became quite apparent how truncated the Vegas Masquerade is and how underused this talented group of dancers is compared to the original production. The long-form Masquerade gives the dancers a chance to go all out with some very energetic and joyful choreography and while still wonderful to see, the Vegas cut sadly doesn’t give them the chance to reach that height.

Giry’s Confession/Twisted Every Way:
Tina Walsh brought a bit of Las Vegas royalty to the proceedings when she joined the cast in 2008. Formerly starring in the long-running Mandalay Bay production of “Mamma Mia!”, co-starring opposite Michael Crawford, Tommy Tune, and Rick Springfield in MGM’s “EFX”, and a “Jubilee!” showgirl before that, Tina brought the gravitas of someone who’s been in the business for awhile and the bearing of a former dancer. This scene really gave her a chance to show some range and depth to Madame Giry now that the Phantom was acting out in a more and more threatening manner. The contrast between Tina’s stoic manner versus the near panic and underlying guilt for harboring this man’s secret here really worked well.

Six and a half years and this mash-up of Giry’s confession and the second manager’s scene still feels awkward, but the cast made the most of it, and in Andrew’s case, sold it better. Either due to my proximity to the stage or his mic was still turned up, when he and the managers surrounded Christine and tried to convince her to help them with their plan, you could clearly hear Andrew say, “Christine, my darling, I promise you will not be harmed!” Having seen too many Raouls in the past just pantomime this moment without any words of comfort or concern is another reason Andrew is at the top of the list of my favorite Raouls.

Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again:
“Wishing” is Christine’s “I Want” song (if you want to use a Disney term). It’s a dramatically crucial moment for the character and a chance for the actress to really sink her teeth into the part. And within the context of a final performance, it was a chance for the actress to say goodbye in so many ways. Kristi truly gorgeous rendition really brought the emotion to the song and the scene and we rewarded her with thunderous applause before she even finished her last note.

Wandering Child:
At the beginning of the rooftop scene and again here, Kristi would raise her fingers to her temple like the Phantom’s voice and influence was this presence she could feel in her head, creating a palpable connection between them. It’s another one of those nice touches she brought to her role that made it unique.

In this first confrontation between Christine’s suitors, it definitely did not feel like the Vicomte was foolishly outmatched. Andrew exuded an aura of strength in challenging the Phantom through his stance, the set of his jaw, the tone of his voice, and his natural frikkin’ HEIGHT. The actors in Vegas (all of them, the Phantoms, Christines, and Raouls alike) all gave this scene a bit more believability in how it played out compared to other productions I’d seen.

Before the Performance/Don Juan Triumphant:
Funniest part of this scene? Sarah Combs as a Don Juan Page strutting across the stage at the top of the scene like she was a pirate. I could practically hear her say, “Yo ho ho.” Oh, and Ted racing across the stage at full speed while shouting, “Places, everyone! Places!” is just totally hilarious to me for some reason.

During a previous backstage trip, Brianne had shown off her costumes and some of the insane details Maria Björnson included that you don’t really get to appreciate when seeing them in the show – like the layers of multi-colored underskirts in her Don Juan costume. I imagine Brianne wanted to show these off in the final days of the show, because when she made her brief appearance in the Don Juan scene, before she tickled Passarino’s chin and saucily flicked her leg as she skipped offstage, she swished her skirt (can-can style) so high in order to show off the underskirts that she briefly exposed a bit of thigh – great prep work for her future role as Christine/Aminta, I’d say. Rawr.

Point of No Return:
I must have still been a bit delirious because I don’t remember much of PoNR – and considering how much they cut from it, if you blink, you might miss it entirely. I do remember that when Kristi sang the line, “defenseless and silent”, she let her voice shudder on the word, “silent” in a really sexy way. Kinda made up for the lack of apple!porn.

"Bring down the chandelier!"
You know how there’s this huge leap of logic you have to make to legitimize the Phantom escaping with Christine while being surrounded by policemen? Well in Vegas, not only did the Phantom have that giant chandelier crashing as a distraction, but there was a lot more going on onstage as well. After the unmasking and Brianne’s signature scream, the police started to move in. In the back, you could see Michael Lackey’s policeman train his gun on the Phantom but at the same time, Meg was looking at Christine in desperation – helpless to know what to do for her friend. Christine then took a step towards Meg, blocking Lackey’s shot before he could pull the trigger who raised his gun to avoid hitting her. At the same time, the Phantom gave the command and before you knew it, badda-bing, badda-boom, the chandelier shook and plummeted into the audience to enormous – and I mean ENORMOUS – applause. All this within a few seconds.

Final Lair:
One of the things I REALLY loved about the Vegas Christines was that in the final scene, each and every one of them that I saw had some backbone to them. Some have been super-defiant and practically in the Phantom’s face with anger, while others have been angry but still fearful when the Phantom pushes back. Kristi played it somewhere down the middle – when the Phantom said, “the joys of the flesh”, Kristi’s expression was a stiff and defiant “Don’t you dare touch me!” which began to succumb to fear as he neared her.

All the stoicism Anthony’s Phantom possessed throughout the show gave way to a panicky, aggressive man in this scene. He started the scene breathing hard and looking up at the portcullis, knowing that any minute his home would be discovered by the mob. But when he began to think back of his mother and the mask being the first piece of clothing she gave him, he crumbled, his voice switching to falsetto to convey the pain those memories carried with them. This is a moment that Anthony’s done since the beginning of the show and I have always loved it. Wherein past performances the character would regain control over his emotions and say, “Pity comes too late” with more force, in this final performance Anthony’s voice cracked like he was choking up before returning to that level of strength. It was a subtle but effective nuance that worked well as Kristi butted up against it with a renewed strength in her Christine.

Once Raoul was on the scene, the temperature shifted distinctly now that the Phantom had a focus for his anger and the cruel, sadistic, and sarcastic side of the character came back out – causing the situation to spin wildly out of control until it finally came to a head with that terrible choice.

Another thing that the Las Vegas production also did that I don’t recall being as pronounced in other productions is the moment of Christine’s decision. Vegas allowed it to be the significant acting moment that it should be, giving the audience time to see Christine process the no-win scenario she’s been put in and decide on a third path that redeems the Phantom’s soul. For Anthony’s part, I could have sworn I saw his eyes begin to glisten as Kristi sang, “Pitiful creature of darkness, what kind of life have you known?” The audience broke into applause for the kiss (which was a first for me in my entire history of seeing the show), leading the show to its dénouement, and as the final notes floated through the air, Brianne’s expression as she held the mask up and the spotlights closed in was filled with all the emotion I felt in that moment – all the sorrow, all the loss, all brimming at the surface but just barely kept in check.

Curtain Call:
The audience roared with applause as the curtain came down and continued on as the cast came out to take their final bows, leading us all to give them a last, well-deserved standing ovation. A mother and child walked up to the orchestra pit when Anthony came out and tossed him a bouquet of flowers, and the principals were each given their own bouquet of flowers by the production. Then Arthur Masella (the show’s associate director), representing the original creative team, came out and gave a very touching speech on behalf of the cast and crew – who also deservedly came out to join the cast onstage to equal applause. “I have been very fortunate and privileged to direct ‘Phantom’ throughout the world,” Arthur said, “and I can tell you that this production is truly unique, truly singular, and truly spectacular.”

So true, Artie. So very, very true. And while my heart is saddened by the end of this incredible version of my favorite musical and the parting of ways of its cast and crew, in my heart I also know that this phantom family that I have cheered on for the past six and a half years will go on to new shows, enriching those projects with their remarkable talents.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Phantom has left the building…


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Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular - 2 September 2012 7:00pm: The Finale Empty Re: Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular - 2 September 2012 7:00pm: The Finale

Post  LadyCDaae Fri Oct 12, 2012 9:41 pm

Thank you so much for that! So many wonderful details...makes me wish I could have been there to see it.



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Post  InkedAlchemist Fri Oct 12, 2012 10:24 pm

Well put.

Thanks for that. Smile

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Post  NightRachel Sat Oct 13, 2012 12:07 am

LadyCDaae wrote:Thank you so much for that! So many wonderful details...makes me wish I could have been there to see it.


Yes indeed! Thanks so much, Raphael, for sharing this review of the final performance of PLV, as seen through your eyes! I really enjoyed reading it...still kicking myself for having missed out on being there, but thanks to fellow phans like you I can imagine in my mind what it was like to be there. Smile

And...I found another YouTube vid of the PLV final performance curtain call. Enjoy! Very Happy

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